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The Oncology Department of Black Lion Hospital that’s responsible for the treatment of cancer patients has returned to its normal operations after closing its doors as five of its staff tested positive for the Novel Coronavirus.

The department, which is one of the two Oncology wards found in the capital, was forced to close its doors for two days on two occasions.

In the first incident that happened at the end of June two porters, hospital staff that move patients, tested positive for the virus. The department was subsequently closed, fumigated, and was opened back again on the next working day.

In the second incident that happened two weeks ago on June 6, 2020, five more staff members of the department contracted the virus. The hospital took the same measures again closing the ward, fumigating the building and its equipment, and opening the next day.

Though the department was closed only for two days, the incident took a toll on the hospital, its admitted patients and the medical community as a whole.

Because of the nature of the virus, the cancer patients were at high risk of the mortality rate if they had contracted it. However, when a total of 36 staff in the department were quarantined, no cancer patients were quarantined.

“Since they were cancer patients the staff had been avoiding close contact with the patients and all precaution measurer were being taken in the normal day to day operation of the department” Aynalem Abraha (MD) a cancer specialist at the Oncology Department of Black Lion Hospital told Addis Insight.

“In addition, the quarantine guideline of Ethiopian Public health Institute (EPHI) is for people that had close contacts and doesn’t necessarily require quarantining people that had causal contact,” said Aynalem, “thus, we didn’t quarantine the patients”.

Moreover, the Oncology department that treats around 100 patients a day was severely stranded because of the incident.

“Since we were closed for two days we had to reschedule the patients that had appointments on the closed days” added the cancer specialist.

The task became difficult as the department was operating at full capacity. The shortage of staff members that were subsequently quarantined put more pressure on the team.

“However, after two weeks of rescheduling patients and adding more working days we are back to normal operations,” said Worku, head nurse at the Department.

Regarding questions from Addis Insight relating to taking precautions to prevent the event from happening again, Aynalem replied that the department was doing the best it can, keeping minimum contact with patients and its staff wearing protective gear at all times.

“A much worst situation could have happened and could still happen” warned Aynalem.

The department provides comprehensive cancer treatment including surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy for people diagnosed with cancer.

Currently, the department is also conducting a virtual clinic for its patients and checking up on them via a telephone call.

“We are encouraging patients to show up for their treatment and not to be scared away by the virus,” said Aynalem “so far only a few patients have missed their appointed schedules”.

Nationwide there are only a handful of oncology departments. While there around 400 hospitals in the country only around 9 public hospitals provide chemotherapy treatments. Only two of these departments are found in the Capital, one at Black Lion and the other at St. Paul’s Hospital Millennium Medical College.

Worldwide, according to The International Council of Nurses (ICN), more than 90,000 healthcare workers had been infected and hundreds have died because of the novel pandemic.

As of June 19, 2020, there are 4070 confirmed cases of the Coronavirus in Ethiopia and 72 people have died because of it.