COVID-19 and its prevention has put considerable strain on health care systems in low and middle-income countries (LMIC). In Uganda, a national lockdown was declared on March 18, 2020, in response to COVID-19 pandemic and concern of spread of cases without aggressive measures to prevent spread. The lockdown consisted of closure of all offices except essential ones, orders to stay at home unless an emergency occurred, school closure, a ban on all meetings of more than 10 people, a ban on public and private transport, closing down of all shops, malls, restaurants, places of worship and other facilities in which group meetings might occur, keeping a distance of at least 2 metres from other people in public places and a 7:00 p.m. to 6:30 a.m. curfew. Hospitals however remained open and operational. We describe the impact of the lockdown in Uganda in response to the COVID-19 pandemic on the morbidity and mortality in children with sickle cell anaemia (SCA) at a tertiary hospital in Uganda. The number of clinic visits for SCA related complications and death were compared in the pre-lockdown (November 2019 to February 2020) and during COVID-19 lockdown periods (March 2020 to June 2020) in children aged 1- 4.99 years enrolled in a SCA research study [Zinc for Infection Prevention in Sickle cell anaemia (NCT03528434)] at Jinja Hospital, Uganda. In the study, children with SCA are asked to return to the hospital for evaluation whenever they are unwell. Follow up phone calls are made to ascertain the wellbeing of the children and identify any who are unable to come to the hospital. During the lockdown, follow up calls continued and facilitation was provided for caregivers to bring any child who was unwell to the hospital for evaluation. A total of 238 children with a mean (standard deviation) age of 2.7(1.1) years were enrolled and were being followed up when the pandemic started. The incidence of hospital sick visits pre-lockdown and during the lockdown period was 7.7 vs 4.0 person-year, (p= <0.0001). Incidence of hospitalization, pain crises, severe anaemia, or malaria were all higher in the pre-lockdown period than during the lockdown period, 2.4 vs.1.0, 1.8 vs. 0.7, 0.7 vs. 0.4, 0.6 vs. 0.2 and per person year respectively (all p values < 0.01). There were no deaths during the lockdown period compared to 1 death in the pre-lockdown period. Less than 1000 cases of COVID-19 were reported nationally in this period, and none of the study children had known COVID-19 infection, though testing capacity for this was limited. In this cohort of children with SCA, hospitalization and morbidity from SCA-related complications and malaria were are significantly lower during a lockdown period for COVID-19 pandemic than before the lockdown. Reduced access to hospital care is unlikely to explain these findings, as sick children still received care at the hospital, and there was no increase in mortality. Reduced interaction with peers because of the lockdown and social distancing, leading to fewer infections that may trigger SCA-complications, may explain the reduced incidence of SCA complications in this population during the COVID-19 lockdown period in Uganda.
No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.
Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.