COVID-19 in Sub-Saharan Africa: A Multi-Institutional Survey of the Impact of the Global Pandemic on Cancer Care Resources

K. W. Merrell, T. A. DeWees, E. B. Osei-Bonsu, O. Acheamfour, A. V.C. Manirakiza, S. M. Avery, A. A.I. Mallum, E. Adjei, A. E. Garda, T. Steiner, T. Leavitt, J. Lucido, N. Ndlovu, W. Ngwa, A. Ntekim, V. Vanderpuye, E. C.D.K. Addison, E. S. Woldetsadik, P. Ochieng, K. H. Begna

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


PURPOSE/OBJECTIVE(S): The COVID-19 pandemic has direct and indirect impact on patients with cancer. Low- and middle-income regions, especially sub-Saharan Africa, are especially vulnerable to a negative impact on cancer resources and outcomes. We report the initial indirect impact of COVID-19 on cancer care in the sub-Saharan Africa region approximately 14 months into the pandemic. MATERIALS/METHODS: At the start of the pandemic, we created a consortium of African and North American cancer centers and NGOs for the distribution of factual and timely information and data on COVID-19 and cancer care. A survey was distributed to consortium members and other colleagues from the sub-Saharan Africa region to understand the impact of COVID-19 in cancer care resources. Survey respondents represent cancer experts from 8 centers in Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, Ethiopia, South Africa, Rwanda, and Zimbabwe. RESULTS: All sites report SARS-COv-2 transmission amongst cancer patients and staff. A total of 48 staff developed COVID-19 infection with one site reporting a single death. Additionally, 62.5% of sites report loss of oncology physician or nursing staff due to redeployment for COVID-19 care resulting in minimal (20%), moderate (60%), or other (20%) impact on cancer care. All 8 sites report a government mandated lockdown with a median duration of 2.3 months (IQR .9-4.2 months). Impact of the lockdown on cancer care was reported as none (12.5%), minimal (12.5%), moderate (50%) and severe (25%). Additionally, we surveyed the impact of COVID-19 on resources in radiation, medical and surgical oncology services. A total of 25% of responders reported decreases in radiation resources while 37.5% reported changes in medical and surgical oncology resources. For radiation oncology, the most common impact was access to CT imaging for 3D-conformal planning (25%), access to brachytherapy (12.5%), and medical physics support (12.5%). For medical oncology, the most frequent impact was access to chemotherapy (37.5%) and blood products (12.5%), and loss of oncology ward space (12.5%). The most frequent impact for surgical oncology was access to operating rooms (37.5%), ventilators (12.5%), anesthesia (25%), blood products (25%), and other supply chain issues (25%). Of centers who reported impact on cancer care, severity of impact was none (50%) and moderate (50%) for radiation oncology; mild (25%) and moderate (75%) for medical oncology; and moderate (75%) and severe (25%) for surgical oncology. CONCLUSION: Our survey identified diffuse impact of COVID-19 on all facets of cancer care across sub-Saharan Africa. Based on physician assessment of impact, the discipline of surgical oncology may be impacted the greatest. Additional studies measuring the impact of COVID-19 on cancer outcomes are ongoing.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)e349-e350
JournalInternational journal of radiation oncology, biology, physics
Issue number3
StatePublished - Nov 1 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Radiation
  • Oncology
  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging
  • Cancer Research


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