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ORIGINAL ARTICLE Table of Contents   
Year : 2021  |  Volume : 18  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 24-27
Resuming elective paediatric surgical procedures in the era of COVID-19

Department of Surgery, Faculty of Medicine, The Hashemite University, Zarqa, Jordan

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Date of Submission30-Jun-2020
Date of Decision27-Jul-2020
Date of Acceptance17-Aug-2020
Date of Web Publication16-Feb-2021


Background: The novel coronavirus and the disease it causes COVID-19, like other viral outbreaks, have an unpredictable timeline. Therefore, a triumph in the battle against COVID-19 could only be achieved if a health care system's capacity to support a potentially overwhelming increase in critical patient care needs is maintained, and the viral curve is flattened. Accordingly, health care bodies around the globe called upon prioritising appropriate resource allocation as it relates to elective invasive procedures and minimising the use of essential items required to care for patients. The unpredictability COVID-19 timeline in the absence of effective drug treatments and vaccination along with the restrictive health care policies implemented suggest that patients may be deprived of access to needed surgical care, likely for many months. However, the potential undue delay in delivering essential elective surgical care may have a more detrimental impact on patients' health compared to that of COVID-19 itself. This particularly applies to the paediatric population in which infection rates have been demonstrated to be considerably lower and mortalities have not been reported yet. Therefore, the need emerges for actions to be taken that allow for the resumption of essential elective surgical procedures in this population of patients. Materials and Methods: A comprehensive search through surgical guidance and recommendations to develop a set of evidence based recommendations that allow for the safe and timely delivery of essential paediatric surgical care during the time of COVID-19. Conclusion: No compelling evidence that the paediatric population is at an increased risk of morbidity or mortality exists. Therefore, delaying essential paediatric surgical care cannot be justified as it may have a potentially negative health impact, and continuous refinements of surgical recommendations are encouraged in view of evolving circumstances.

Keywords: COVID-19, elective surgery, pandemic, paediatric surgery, severe acute respiratory syndrome-CoV-2

How to cite this article:
Al-Omar K, Bakkar S. Resuming elective paediatric surgical procedures in the era of COVID-19. Afr J Paediatr Surg 2021;18:24-7

How to cite this URL:
Al-Omar K, Bakkar S. Resuming elective paediatric surgical procedures in the era of COVID-19. Afr J Paediatr Surg [serial online] 2021 [cited 2022 Jul 3];18:24-7. Available from:

   Introduction Top

Pandemics have devastated human history even before biblical times, with the most fatal pandemic being the bubonic plague (Black Death), which killed an estimated 75–200 million people in the 14th century.[1] The influenza pandemic of 1918 (Spanish Flu) was the most devastating viral pandemic in recent history. It infected approximately 500 million people (about one third of the world's population) and killed over 50 million people.[2] The novel coronavirus and the disease it causes (COVID-19), as named by the World Health Organisation (WHO), was quickly compared to the Spanish Flu, and anticipation of a similar severity was drawn.[3] This concern was reasonable due to preliminary data which showed a rapid viral transmission rate and a higher mortality rate compared to seasonal influenza-like illnesses. Closing teaching institutions, restricting travel and limiting medical care were done to contain the spread and limit losses.[4] Interventions were limited to emergency cases, and health-care bodies urged practicing thoughtful considerations regarding interventional procedures. In the beginning, fear of an overwhelming pandemic that would exhaust resources and potentially spread among health-care providers rationalised these actions. Furthermore, the scarcity of data was a handicap that would improve with the play-out of the timeline of COVID-19. Developing information has helped us better understand the severity of COVID-19. COVID-19 overall mortality rate is considered higher than that of seasonal flu.[5] Although the disease affects all age categories, children present with a milder form of the disease, and no deaths have been reported among children.[6]

Using 'a one size fits all' recommendation may prove to be harmful at this point. Robertson et al. reported an early estimate of the indirect effect of COVID-19 on maternal and child health in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs).[7] They demonstrated that child and maternal mortality could considerably increase because of the disruption in routine health care and access to food.[7] Chang et al. reported a significant reduction in ambulatory, inpatient, and dental care during the peak of the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) epidemic due to fear of the implications of viral spread.[8] Bakkar et al. highlighted the considerable additional financial and psychological implications imposed by COVID-19 on cancer management plans, even in areas of low prevalence.[9]

Elective (non-essential) surgical procedures should be thoughtfully considered in accordance with the surge expected form the pandemic spread; however, specific regions who already suffer from a heavy burden of surgical disease, such as Africa, should have special considerations.[10] Twenty-eight million surgical operations are estimated to be cancelled and LMICs such as Africa will be hardest hit.[11] These areas where health care is already scarce, and the medical services are already pushed to the limit, a quick recovery will undeniably be impossible.[11] The already impaired referral chain along with the imposed restrictions on mobility and decrease in incomes, related to COVID-19, will cumulatively delay seeking health care and surgical services. This shift to non-operative management will likely increase the complications related to surgical cases and prolong hospital stay also, which in turn may increase the chance of nosocomial transmissions.[12],[13],[14]

Elective paediatric surgical and medical care has been curbed in concordance with guidance from surgical associations and health-care officials.[15] However, the potential outcome of delay in necessary elective surgical procedures may have a more detrimental impact on patients' health compared to that of COVID-19 itself. When prioritising surgical cases, these fall along a continuum and are stratified according to indication and degree of urgency bearing in mind that many elective surgical procedures could upgrade in terms of priority at any time and become urgent or emergent.[16]

The uncertainties around COVID-19 timeline and the potential impact of the pandemic have rationalised current mitigations and guidance regarding surgical interventions, but emerging data and the potential negative implications of delaying surgical care urge us to re-strategies accordingly. The purpose of our study is to provide guidance for the safe and timely resumption of elective surgical paediatric care.

   Resuming Elective Paediatric Surgical Care Top

While potentially overwhelming the infrastructure of health-care facilities is a major concern, re-establishing elective surgical care is equally important. Resuming surgical care for hundreds of millions of patients worldwide may reasonably face strong objections. Nevertheless, denying it without significant evidence may have serious repercussions. The current available literature on COVID-19 supports that children suffer from a milder form of the disease and lacks any reports on adverse outcomes related to paediatric surgical interventions.[6] Therefore, there is no current evidence to support further delay of essential paediatric surgical care.

Accordingly, a well-balanced and comprehensive strategy to resume elective paediatric surgical procedures can be assembled utilising the following recommendations:[17]

Isolating pediatric surgical centers

Pediatric surgical interventions should be performed in centres that do not treat COVID-19 patients. Furthermore, select centres should be dedicated to the treatment of COVID-19 patients.[17] In regions where the number of patients requiring hospitalisation exceeds available resources, performing elective procedures should be weighed against the possible adverse implications of a potential delay. A minimal number of visitors and chaperones should be allowed at any time. A clean and untainted hospital environment is necessary for resuming elective surgical procedures. Furthermore, utilising a COVID-19 specific surgical safety checklist will also assure the execution of set recommendations.

Utilising personal protective equipment

Interventions should be performed assuming that all patients and chaperones are infected. Personal protective equipment (PPE) should be utilised by hospital staff, patients, and any accompanying persons. Practicing maximum safety measurements will reduce the likelihood of viral transmission. It will also assure the safety of patients and the health-care providers. Operating room staff should wear surgical face masks and eye coverings (droplet precautions) for standard operative cases and wear N95 masks, eye protection, gloves and gowns for aerosol-producing procedures.[18]

Screening paediatric surgical patients

Implementing a comprehensive screening protocol is essential for a safe surgical practice and is necessary for protecting patients and health-care personnel. The ASA and the APSF have published a joint statement on non-urgent care during the COVID-19 outbreak.[19] Their recommendations were in concordance to the CDC COVID-19 health-care facility guidance.[20] The joint statement advised identifying the prevalence of COVID-19 in populations before the implementation of any peri-operative testing protocol.

Al-Omar et al. proposed a modified screening protocol for surgical intervention based on regional prevalence.[17] The prevalence was classified as either high or low based on calculations of previous seasons of flu-like illnesses.[21] In regions with no or low COVID-19 prevalence (low priority for testing), patients should be screened for symptoms. Patients reporting flu-like symptoms should be referred for nucleic acid amplification. Their procedures should be postponed according to test results and/or clinical status. Regions with a high prevalence rate (high priority for testing) are urged to screen for symptoms and perform nucleic acid amplification testing for patients and chaperones.[17]

The CDC COVID-19 health-care facility guidance recommends discontinuing transmission-based precautions in symptomatic patients based on either a test-based or a symptom-based strategy. While adopting a test-based or a time-based strategy for asymptomatic patients.[18]

Prioritising surgical cases

Prioritising surgical cases according to urgency are necessary to minimise the utilisation of potentially scarce resources. Most paediatric surgical procedures are time-sensitive and cannot be delayed indefinitely. [Table 1] summarises common paediatric surgical procedures according to urgency (structured according to the American College of Surgeons guidance).[15] This may help facilities formulating management protocols for paediatric surgical cases. Health-care providers are left with the responsibility of prioritising the urgency of procedures and scheduling them accordingly. An additional consideration is to prioritise cases according to surgical complexity. Priority can be given to day case surgery cases. Centres can isolate same day surgical facilities where patients can be admitted and discharged with no need to interact with ward patients. A large proportion of paediatric surgical cases are inguino-scrotal conditions and urogenital procedures that do not need complex interventions and can be discharged following the procedure with proper counselling.[22]
Table 1: Pediatric surgical procedures stratified based on urgency

Click here to view

   Conclusion Top

No compelling evidence that the paediatric population is at an increased risk of morbidity or mortality exists. Therefore, delaying essential paediatric surgical care cannot be justified as it may have a potentially negative health impact, and continuous refinements of surgical recommendations are encouraged in view of evolving circumstances.

Financial support and sponsorship


Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

   References Top

Gould GM, Pyle WL. Anomalies and Curiosities of Medicine Part 2. Montana: Kessinger Publishing; 1896.  Back to cited text no. 1
Taubenberger JK, Morens DM. 1918 Influenza: The mother of all pandemics. Emerg Infect Dis 2006;12:15-22.  Back to cited text no. 2
Franchini AF, Auxilia F, Galimberti PM, Piga MA, Castaldi S, Porro A. COVID 19 and Spanish flu pandemics: All it changes, nothing changes. Acta Biomed 2020;91:245-50.  Back to cited text no. 3
Viner RM, Russell SJ, Croker H, Packer J, Ward J, Stansfield C, et al. School closure and management practices during coronavirus outbreaks including COVID-19: A rapid systematic review. Lancet Child Adolesc Health 2020;4:397-404.  Back to cited text no. 4
Roser M, Ritchie H, Ortiz-Ospina E, Hasell J. Coronavirus Pandemic (COVID-19). Our World in Data c2020. Available from: [Last accessed on 2020 Jun 01].  Back to cited text no. 5
Zimmermann P, Curtis N. Coronavirus infections in children Including COVID-19: An overview of the epidemiology, clinical features, diagnosis, treatment and prevention options in children. Pediatr Infect Dis J 2020;39:355-68.  Back to cited text no. 6
Roberton T, Carter ED, Chou VB, Stegmuller AR, Jackson BD, Tam Y, et al. Early estimates of the indirect effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on maternal and child mortality in low-income and middle-income countries: A modelling study. Lancet Glob Health 2020;8:e901-8.  Back to cited text no. 7
Chang HJ, Huang N, Lee CH, Hsu YJ, Hsieh CJ, Chou YJ. The impact of the SARS epidemic on the utilization of medical services: SARS and the fear of SARS. Am J Public Health 2004;94:562-4.  Back to cited text no. 8
Bakkar S, Al-Omar K, Aljarrah Q, Al-Dabbas M, Al-Dabbas N, Samara S, et al. Impact of COVID-19 on thyroid cancer surgery and adjunct therapy. Updates Surg 2020;72:867-9.  Back to cited text no. 9
Gona CV. Letter to the editor: Cancellation of elective surgery during the COVID 19 pandemic. East Centr Afr J Surg 2020;25:33.  Back to cited text no. 10
Nepogodiev D, Bhangu A. Elective surgery cancellations due to the COVID-19 pandemic: Global predictive modelling to inform surgical recovery plans. Br J Surg 2020;107:1440-9.  Back to cited text no. 11
Pilkington M, Situma M, Winthrop A, Poenaru D. Quantifying delays and self-identified barriers to timely access to pediatric surgery at Mbarara Regional Referral Hospital, Uganda. J Pediatr Surg 2018;53:1073-9.  Back to cited text no. 12
Kong VY, Sartorius B, Clarke DL. Acute appendicitis in the developing world is a morbid disease. Ann R Coll Surg Engl 2015;97:390-5.  Back to cited text no. 13
Knaapen M, van der Lee JH, Heij HA, van Heurn ELW, Bakx R, Gorter RR. Clinical recovery in children with uncomplicated appendicitis undergoing non-operative treatment: Secondary analysis of a prospective cohort study. Eur J Pediatr 2019;178:235-42.  Back to cited text no. 14
COVID-19 Update: Guidance for Triage of Non-emergent Surgical Procedures. American College of Surgeons (ACS). c2020. Available from: [Last accessed on 2020 June 01].  Back to cited text no. 15
Stahel PF. How to risk-stratify elective surgery during the COVID-19 pandemic? Patient Saf Surg 2020;14:8.  Back to cited text no. 16
Al-Omar K, Bakkar S, Khasawneh L, Donatini G, Miccoli P. Resuming elective surgery in the time of COVID-19: A safe and comprehensive strategy. Updates Surg 2020;72:291-5.  Back to cited text no. 17
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (NCIRD) Transmission-Based Precautions. Available from: [Last accessed on 2020 June 01].  Back to cited text no. 18
American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA) and the Anesthesia Patient Safety foundation (APSF). ASA and APSF Joint Statement on Perioperative Testing for the COVID-19 Virus; 2020. Available from: [Last accessed on 2020 April 29].  Back to cited text no. 19
Aminian A, Safari S, Razeghian-Jahromi A, Ghorbani M, Delaney CP. COVID-19 outbreak and surgical practice: Unexpected fatality in perioperative period. Ann Surg 2020;272:e27-9.  Back to cited text no. 20
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (NCIRD), Division of Viral Diseases (2020) Discontinuation of Transmission-Based Precautions and Disposition of Patients with COVID-19 in Health-Care Settings (Interim Guidance). Available from: [Last accessed on 2020 Apr 28].  Back to cited text no. 21
Upadhyaya M, Lander A. Day-case surgery in children. Surgery (Oxford) 2013; 31:140-4.  Back to cited text no. 22

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Khaled Al-Omar
Department of Surgery, Faculty of Medicine, The Hashemite University, Zarqa 13133
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/ajps.AJPS_96_20

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