The effect of COVID-19 on essential surgical admissions in South Africa: A retrospective observational analysis of admissions before and during lockdown at a tertiary healthcare complex

J Moustakis, A A Piperidis, A B Ogunrombi


Background. With COVID-19 having spread across the globe, it has become standard to implement infection control strategies (colloquially known as lockdown) with the intention of reducing the magnitude and delaying the peak of the epidemiological curve. Personal infection mitigation strategies coupled with lockdown have caused a change in healthcare-seeking behaviour, with individuals not attending to their ill health as they previously did.

Objectives. To determine whether admissions for urgent and emergency surgical pathologies have declined during the COVID-19 lockdown period, and the magnitude of the decline.

Methods. A retrospective analysis was conducted, comparing pre-lockdown (3 February - 26 March 2020) and lockdown (27 March - 30 April 2020) admission incidences for surgical pathologies at a tertiary healthcare complex in North West Province, South Africa. Poisson regression models were created to determine admission incidence rate ratios (IRRs).

Results. Of 769 surgical admissions included in the analysis, 49.7% were male and 67.2% were unemployed. There was a 44% reduction in the incidence of non-trauma admissions during lockdown (IRR 0.56; 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.47 - 0.68; p<0.001) and a 53% reduction in the incidence of trauma-related admissions (IRR 0.47; 95% CI 0.34 - 0.66; p<0.001).

Conclusions. Even when the prevalence of SARS-CoV-2 infection was minimal, COVID-19 lockdown in North West was associated with a significant reduction in surgical admissions. In order to ensure an overall benefit to public health, a balance between maintaining the integrity of COVID-19 control mechanisms and access to healthcare services is essential.

Authors' affiliations

J Moustakis, Johannesburg District Health, Gauteng Department of Health, Johannesburg, South Africa

A A Piperidis, Klerksdorp-Tshepong Hospital Complex, Klerksdorp, South Africa

A B Ogunrombi, Klerksdorp-Tshepong Hospital Complex, Klerksdorp, South Africa; Department of Surgery, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa

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COVID-19; South Africa; North West Province; Surgery; Healthcare access; SARS-CoV-2

Cite this article

South African Medical Journal 2020;110(9):910-915. DOI:10.7196/SAMJ.2020.v110i9.15025

Article History

Date submitted: 2020-08-31
Date published: 2020-08-31

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