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Ward, home visits canned for cancer patients

Samoa’s cancer patients have lost their regular hospital ward and home visits as the Samoa Cancer Society works to protect some of the country’s most vulnerable people from COVID-19.

There are 50 patients registered with the charity, which used to conduct twice a week home visits and bring patients nearly every day to the hospital for treatment and check-ups by doctors. 

Many of the patients are receiving palliative care or recovery treatment from their radiotherapy or chemotherapy procedures.

But with the nation under a state of emergency and travel and gatherings cut right back, those visits are now limited to only urgent ones.

“Given the vulnerable conditions of cancer patients at any stage, the Society cannot stress enough the importance of best hygienic practices at the home or workplace,” President Shelley Burich said. 

“Wash your hands, keep the surroundings clean (for our cancer patients and caregivers) to minimize the risk of further infection from COVID-19”.

The novel coronavirus COVID-19 has infected more than 850,000 people and caused more than 42,000 deaths since December 2019. So far nearly 200,000 people have recovered. 

People with pre-existing health conditions, non-communicable diseases and people older than 60-years are especially at risk of suffering a severe infection that without enough resources can result in death. 

Patients with blood malignancies, who are in active chemotherapy or intensive radiotherapy, have antibody treatments or other targeted treatments or who have undergone bone marrow or stem cell transplants in the last six months, are particularly vulnerable as these treatments weaken the immune system.

To protect the country’s cancer patients, the Society has limited its own office hours to just Tuesdays and Thursdays until 2:30, and is largely serving only registered patients to get them the supplies they need.

A Patient Support Officer is calling patients and their families often, Ms. Burich said, to share advice to patients and families on handwashing, isolation of patients and/or at risk family members, and cleanliness within the home.

For clinical support, the Society is directing cancer patients and caregivers to the COVID-19 Hotline of the Ministry of Health (Toll Free number 800-6440) and make appointments at the hospital where necessary.

Since late 2019, the S.C.S has been able to offer a small one-off grant financial assistance for cancer patients registered with the Society to help afford basic treatment supplies

It has also translated into Samoan guidelines for patients and caregiers from the Union on International Cancer Control (U.I.C.C.). They are:

  1. Consult with their health practitioner with regard to maintaining scheduled appointments for treatment not more than one caregivers should accompany a cancer patient to treatment.
  2. Avoid public transportation; call the M.O.H. toll-free number 800-6440 to enquire about a mobile health service. When travelling, take all measures to protect hands, mouth, eyes and maintain a safe distance from others.
  3. Minimize time spent in the hospital settings by conducting consultations remotely as possible such as bloods test being done at a general practitioners office and sent to the lab for testing.
  4. Keep the immune system as strong  as possible; get enough sleep (ideally eight hours) engage in exercise if possible, eat healthily; avoid  stress, and make sure other potential medical conditions like diabetes, blood pressure are under control.
  5. Inform their medical provider if they develop symptoms, particularly a serious one such as respiratory difficulties.
  6. Plan ahead with the health care providers, family and friends to address possible emergency needs, making sure any necessary documentation, medical treatments, and prescriptions are easily available.
  7. If family members develop symptoms they should sleep in a different room and not accompany the patients to the hospital; shared areas in the house should be cleaned with bleach (Clorox, Janola)
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