Cancer service delivery and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in sub-Saharan Africa: a scoping review

8 Dec 2022
Elochukwu F Ezenwankwo, Chukwudi A Nnaji, Jennifer Moodley

Background: The impact of the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic on health systems is widely reported worldwide. However, what remains unclear is the relative extent of the pandemic’s effects on cancer management in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). This review provides an up-to-date synthesis of the literature to inform post-pandemic policy and practice efforts in the region.

Methods: Sources searched for published research include MEDLINE, PsycINFO, Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature, African Index Medicus, African Wide Information and Web of Science. Using predefined criteria, the retrieved citations were screened for primary research describing the direct and indirect impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the cancer care and service delivery landscape in SSA since March 2020. Evidence was summarised using narrative synthesis.

Results: Fourteen studies reporting findings from 19 SSA countries were included in this review. Studies were conducted mostly in the first wave of the pandemic (between March and July 2020) (10/14). The most commonly reported impact on cancer treatment (including surgery) were cancellations, delays and modifications (11/14). Half (7/14) of the studies reported on the impact of the pandemic on cancer care resource availability and service restructuring. Other notable impacts included temporary suspension, total cancellations or alterations in cancer screening (3/14) and diagnostic (3/14) services or programmes. Disruptions in cancer research and outreach activities were also reported (3/14). The availability and maintenance of cancer healthcare depended on multiple factors like availability of clinical supplies, existing oncology workforce, adequate supply of personal protective equipment and local pandemic mitigation measures. Notably, no studies reported on the impact of the pandemic on psychosocial support programmes, physiotherapy and other rehabilitation care for cancer patients.

Conclusion: Changes in cancer care and service delivery due to the COVID-19 pandemic varied considerably across countries in SSA. This review underscores the need for urgent actions to mitigate current setbacks while recommending evidence-based and contextualised approaches to revitalising cancer care in the post-pandemic era.

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