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Opinion Articles from the Lancet: COVID-19 and Cancer Care in China and Africa

Reporter: Stephen J. Williams, PhD

Cancer Patients in SARS-CoV-2 infection: a nationwide analysis in China

Wenhua Liang, Weijie Guan, Ruchong Chen, Wei Wang, Jianfu Li, Ke Xu, Caichen Li, Qing Ai, Weixiang Lu, Hengrui Liang, Shiyue Li, Jianxing He

Lancet Oncol. 2020 Mar; 21(3): 335–337. Published online 2020 Feb 14. doi: 10.1016/S1470-2045(20)30096-6

PMCID: PMC7159000

 

The National Clinical Research Center for Respiratory Disease and the National Health Commission of the People’s Republic of China collaborated to establish a prospective cohort to monitor COVID-19 cases in China.  As on Jan31, 20202007 cases have been collected and analyzed with confirmed COVID-19 infection in these cohorts.

Results: 18 or 1% of COVID-19 cases had a history of cancer (the overall average cancer incidence in the overall China population is 0.29%) {2015 statistics}.  It appeared that cancer patients had an observable higher risk of COVID related complications upon hospitalization. However, this was a higher risk compared with the general population.  There was no comparison between cancer patients not diagnosed with COVID-19 and an assessment of their risk of infection.  Interestingly those who were also cancer survivors showed an increased incidence of COVID related severe complications compared to the no cancer group.

Although this study could have compared the risk within a cancer group, the authors still felt the results warranted precautions when dealing with cancer patients and issued recommendations including:

  1. Postponing of adjuvant chemotherapy or elective surgery for stable cancer should be considered
  2. Stronger personal protection for cancer patients
  3. More intensive surveillance or treatment should be considered when patients with cancer are infected, especially in older patients

Further studies will need to address the risk added by specific types of chemotherapy: cytolytic versus immunotherapy e.g.

 

Preparedness for COVID-19 in the oncology community in Africa

Lancet Oncology, Verna Vanderpuye, Moawia Mohammed,Ali Elhassan

Hannah Simonds: Published:April 03, 2020DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/S1470-2045(20)30220-5

Africa has a heterogeneity of cultures, economies and disease patterns however fortunately it is one of the last countries to be hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, which allows some time for preparation by the African nations.  The authors note that with Africa’s previous experiences with epidemics, namely ebola and cholera, Africa should be prepared for this pandemic.

However, as a result of poor economic discipline, weak health systems, and poor health-seeking behaviors across the continent, outcomes could be dismal. Poverty, low health literacy rates, and cultural practices that negatively affect cancer outcomes will result in poor assimilation of COVID-19 containment strategies in Africa.”

In general African oncologists are following COVID-19 guidelines from other high-income countries, but as this writer acknowledges in previous posts, there was a significant lag from first cases in the United States to the concrete formulation of guidelines for both oncologists and patients with regard to this pandemic.  African oncologist are delaying the start of adjuvant therapies and switching more to oral therapies and rethink palliative care.

However the authors still have many more questions than answers, however even among countries that have dealt with this pandemic before Africa (like Italy and US), oncologists across the globe still have not been able to answer questions like: what if my patient develops a fever, what do I do during a period of neutropenia, to their satisfaction or the satisfaction of the patient.  These are questions even oncologists who are dealing in COVID hotspots are still trying to answer including what constitutes a necessary surgical procedure? As I have highlighted in recent posts, oncologists in New York have all but shut down all surgical procedures and relying on liquid biopsies taken in the at-home setting. But does Africa have this capability of access to at home liquid biopsy procedures?

In addition, as I had just highlighted in a recent posting, there exists extreme cancer health disparities across the African continent, as well as the COVID responses. In West Africa, COVID-19 protocols are defined at individual institutions.  This is more like the American system where even NCI designated centers were left to fashion some of their own guidelines initially, although individual oncologists had banded together to do impromptu meetings to discuss best practices. However this is fine for big institutions, but as in the US, there is a large rural population on the African continent with geographical barriers to these big centers. Elective procedures have been cancelled and small number of patients are seen by day.  This remote strategy actually may be well suited for African versus more developed nations, as highlighted in a post I did about mobile health app use in oncology, as this telemedicine strategy is rather new among US oncologists (reference my posts with the Town Hall meetings).

The situation is more complicated in South Africa where they are dealing with an HIV epidemic, where about 8 million are infected with HIV. Oncology services here are still expecting to run at full capacity as the local hospitals deal with the first signs of the COVID outbreak. In Sudan, despite low COVID numbers, cancer centers have developed contingency plans. and are deferring new referrals except for emergency cases.  Training sessions for staff have been developed.

For more articles in this online open access journal on Cancer and COVID-19 please see our

Coronovirus Portal
Responses to the #COVID-19 outbreak from Oncologists, Cancer Societies and the NCI: Important information for cancer patients

 

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Malaria Genomes

 

Curator: Larry H Bernstein, MD, FCAP

 

 Five Malaria Genomes Sequenced

Zimmerman et al.
Whole Genome Sequencing of Field Isolates Provides Robust Characterization of Genetic Diversity in Plasmodium vivax.
Scientists have sequenced the entire genomes of five Plasmodium vivax strains taken from the blood of patients on different continents, providing
  • a wealth of new data to help in the future mapping of malarial parasite traits such as
  • drug resistance, and
determine how different strains are geographically distributed.
  • identified over 80,000 SNPs that can form the basis of association studies and
  • population surveys to study the diversity of P. vivax in a single region.
Malaria.

Malaria. (Photo credit: maestro garabito/escuela potosina)

Malaria distribution map. Most countries with ...

Malaria distribution map. Most countries with a high distribution of malaria also have a high distribution of parasitic worm infections. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: This thin film Giemsa stained microgr...

English: This thin film Giemsa stained micrograph reveals a mature Plasmodium vivax trophozoite. P. vivax trophozoites show amoeboid cytoplasm, large chromatin dots, and fine, yellowish-brown pigment. RBCs are enlarged 1 1/2 – 2X, and may be distorted. If visible, Schüffner’s dots may appear finer than those seen in P. vivax. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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