Dozens of elective surgeries, different medical procedures and radiological interventions are being cancelled or postponed in Karachi and other major cities of Pakistan as a large number of asymptomatic patients have tested positive for Covid-19 over the past week because the Delta variant of SARS-CoV-2 is spreading like fire in the country, surgeons and other health experts said on Saturday.
They said the ratio of cancellation of elective surgeries and procedures due to patients testing positive for Covid-19 is between 20 and 50 per cent on a daily basis, adding that dozens of patients requiring elective surgeries and medical procedures are being asked to quarantine themselves for at least 10 days, often resulting in more miseries and hardships for such patients and their attendants.
Elective surgeries and medical procedures are also being cancelled or postponed because even surgeons, paramedical staff, technicians and nurses are testing positive for Covid-19, experts and officials said, and urged people to take precautionary measures, including getting themselves vaccinated and wearing masks in public places while maintaining social distance.
“Almost 50 per cent of radiological interventions and procedures are being cancelled or postponed as patients are testing positive for Covid-19. These are mostly asymptomatic patients who emerge as Covid-19 positive cases when they are tested for the infectious disease through the polymerase chain reaction [PCR] test,” Imaging Services Chairman Dr Kashif Shazlee at the Indus Health Network (IHN) told The News.
He claimed that Covid-19 is spreading like fire, especially in Karachi, saying that they are forced to postpone half of the radiological procedures to prevent themselves and their staff from contracting Covid-19 because a large number of asymptomatic patients are testing positive for the infectious disease in the city.
IHN Chief Executive Officer Prof Abdul Bari Khan confirmed that a large number of elective surgeries and medical procedures are either being cancelled or postponed at the Indus Hospital Karachi because patients have been found infected with Covid-19.
Another IHN official said that at least 10 to 12 surgical, medical and radiological interventions, including ENT, and orthopaedic and general surgeries, are being cancelled because patients are regularly testing positive for Covid-19, adding that only life-saving surgeries are being performed by risking the lives of surgeons and other support staff.
University of Health Sciences Lahore Vice Chancellor Prof Javed Akram said elective surgeries are not being performed because not only the patients but surgeons and other medical staff also are infected with the coronavirus. “It’s a serious situation in which not only patients but even healthcare providers are suffering, and resulting in further delays in surgeries and procedures.”
Another eminent surgeon and Jinnah Sindh Medical University Pro Vice Chancellor Dr Shahid Rasool said that around 20 per cent of the patients admitted for surgeries at the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre are testing positive for Covid-19, so they are being isolated to prevent other patients and doctors from contracting the infectious disease.
Confirming that even children are testing positive for Covid-19 these days, Association of Paediatric Surgeons of Pakistan president-elect Dr Muhammad Arshad said that when most of the children requiring surgeries are tested for Covid-19, they test positive for the infectious disease, so the operating team is forced to defer the surgical procedures.
“I have postponed two elective surgeries today because a child was Covid-positive. Most of these children are asymptotic, so they’re spreading Covid-19. Every day, four or five elective surgeries of children are being postponed due to Covid-19,” said Dr Arshad, who performs surgeries at the Liaquat National Hospital and the Aga Khan University Hospital.
“More importantly, a lot of the patients are refusing Covid PCR tests for screening before elective surgeries. They are OK with blood test of antibodies for Covid but don’t want the nasal swab PCR. This will increase the burden of surgical problems further in future.”
Several interventional cardiologists also confirmed that they are forced to cancel angioplasties and angiographies due to Covid-positive status of the patients, but they said that in cases of severe heart attacks, they have no other option but to perform the procedures to save the lives of the patients.
Eminent ENT specialist and surgeon Prof Atif Hafeez said that around 30 per cent of the elective surgeries in the ENT wards of the city are also being cancelled due to Covid-19, while leading gastroenterologists said they are performing advanced endoscopies and other procedures even on Covid-19 patients because they have to save the patients’ lives and ease their miseries.
Private Hospitals Association Chairman Dr Junaid Ali Shah said that currently the situation with respect to elective surgeries is not very bad, but warned that the situation can worsen because the Delta variant is spreading like fire, and the number of cases is increasing alarmingly across Pakistan, especially in Karachi.
“Although mortality is low, morbidity is high so far with the Delta variant. The situation is getting very serious. We’re testing all the patients that need admission and their attendants who stay with them.”