At World Child Cancer, we have been closely assessing and monitoring the present situation and potential future implications of Coronavirus/COVID-19. We are working diligently and responding accordingly to government advice in order to help mitigate the impact of the virus. Our current primary concern is to ensure the safety of all associated with World Child Cancer; children and their families, staff, volunteers and supporters, whilst still delivering vital cancer care to children across the world.
Cancer patients are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 due to weakened immune systems as a result of treatment. Because of this, we have made the decision to suspend all avoidable travel until the global situation becomes clearer. All programme management and twinning visits will be postponed in an effort to minimise further spread of the disease. In such difficult and unprecedented times the self-sustainability of our programmes is key. Many of our programmes also receive a significant level of both medical and programme support through online platforms, which will continue and we plan to increase. As the situation is changing so fast we are reviewing our programmes on a daily basis and will make adaptations in response as needed.
When we are better able to, we will assess the longer-term impact on individual programmes and whether there will be any significant changes in our capacity to deliver. For now though, we will continue working to provide the best possible care we can to children with cancer and their families across our programmes.
As of 31st March 2020, there are still very relatively few confirmed COVID-19 cases in most of the countries we work in. Below we have provided updates of what we and the respective governments are doing to curb the spread of this virus. We will continue to update this information as situations change.
The Bangladeshi government has closed all schools and colleges in an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19. Apart from emergency services, banks and some food stores, all workplaces have been told to close down. Mass gatherings are not permitted, meaning we have suspended awareness day events and group workshops/trainings at the hospitals we work in.
Those who have travelled abroad in the last 14 days have been instructed to self-isolate. Flights to all European countries except the United Kingdom have been suspended. However, as per our organisational COVID-19 response, we are suspending all avoidable travel, including from the UK. This means all programme management and twinning visits to Bangladesh will be postponed.
As of 23rd March 2020, the programme office in Bangladesh will be closing – non-medical staff will be working from home.
In Cameroon, schools, colleges and universities have been closed. Mass gatherings are also not permitted. Cameroon borders have been closed.
At our programme centre, Mbingo Baptist Hospital, strict hand-washing rules upon entering and leaving the wards have been implemented and signposts are being put onto every door at the entry of the ward with the message to stop and wash your hands. Where possible, additional hand washing stations are being set up.
Protective masks will be given to each patient, caregivers and staff and staff uniforms will be kept and washed in the hospital, to minimise risk of transmission.
As most of the patients seen in Cameroon come from rural area without good access to the mass media, the team in Cameroon are also holding frequent education sessions for patients and families, noting that patients with cancer have a higher vulnerability to the infection so extra care must be taken.
To enforce social distancing, there will be a limit of one caregiver per patient with strict visitation policies - phone calls being encouraged. The ward is being well ventilated and where possible, space between hospital beds will be made. Non-healthcare staff (e.g. counsellors) will maintain at least a one metre distance from families at all times. Additionally, all staff will be provided with telephone credit so they can easily communicate regarding updates and support.
With limited public transport, patients in need of travel support will receive food and travel grants, assessed on a case-by-case basis. For patients at home, an increased number of follow ups will take place over the phone. Calls will also include further education on COVID-19.
Due to the closing of national borders, managing drug supply will be critical ensuring there are enough drugs for a three-month period.
Isolation areas are prepared for any suspected COVID-19 cases.
Ghanaian borders have now closed, meaning there will be no programme monitoring or twinning visits. There has also been a partial lockdown in some parts of the country.
The Ghanaian government has ordered the closure of all educational institutions: public and private schools and universities. This means that the hospital school at our Accra programme centre, Korle Bu Teaching Hospital (KBTH), has also had to close. Public gatherings have also been suspended. This includes conferences, workshops and rallies meaning that awareness raising events and group training sessions will be postponed.
Additionally, the mother’s hostel at KBTH will now be used to accommodate paediatric oncology out-patients and one guardian. This means children receiving cancer treatment, who are more susceptible to infection, will not have to travel back and forth from hospital on public transport. The families in the hostel will be appropriately distanced. They will also be provided with basic supplies like food, toiletries and hygiene products so they do not have to leave the hostel.
Due to the partial lockdown, no vehicles can enter Kumasi, where Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital is. This means many patients travelling from outside Kumasi are now not able to come into hospital. In the days after the announcement of the lockdown, we were able to set up temporary accommodation for the children and families that need to be in the hospital regularly so priority patients are now still able to receive treatment. For children that are not required to be at hospital regularly, medication is being shipped to their homes. Basic supplies like food and water, toiletries and hygiene products are being provided to those staying in the temporary accommodation.
As of 23rd March, the programme office in Ghana has closed, with all non-medical staff working from home.
The Malawian government have announced the closure of all schools, colleges and universities. They have also banned mass gatherings of more than 100 people.
As of 27th March, Malawi has not yet registered a case of COVID-19.
In Myanmar, public gatherings and events are to be suspended, including our group workshops and trainings. Preschools have been closed, including the Heroes School at Yangon Children’s Hospital (YCH), our programme centre in Myanmar
At YCH, isolation rooms have been organised for suspected COVID-19 cases, with access to ventilator facilities.