Belgium tackles COVID-19
Hospitals respond to pandemic crisis
Marie-José Tassignon MD
Former ESCRS President Marie-José Tassignon remains optimistic about the battle against COVID-19 in her native Belgium.
“We have started quite early to organise and to decrease the number of contacts with patients and the regulations about wearing masks have been implemented,” she said in an interview with EuroTimes. “From last week on, the immediate postoperative treatment, our postoperative follow-up, we do it by phone.”
This means that patients do not have to return to hospital one day and one week after surgery, thereby reducing hospital footfall.
The only cataract procedures being carried out at her hospital, University Hospital of Antwerp (UZA), are for paediatric patients.
“If we don’t operate on them, they lose vision and they lose potential for social integration later,” she said. “Babies don’t seem to be so fragile regarding the virus because if they are younger than three months, they have still the antibodies of their parents. We don’t know even what happens to babies [with the virus] but so far what I know about is that they are less susceptible to get that virus.”
Her hospital has a daily update at 5pm: “The medical director gives indications every day of what should be done, and the hospital website gives you alerts when something has been decided.” While directions may vary across specialties, it is crucial for ophthalmology as they are dealing specifically with the conjunctiva and the eyelids.
Prof Tassignon’s take-home message is simple. “Take it seriously. Take care of everything that you look at and that may be a source of contamination. Clean it with alcohol before starting your consultation. Have a second critical look around of what may be a potential source to spread the virus.”
Another key message is that if you must check a patient’s intraocular pressure, use your hands and no air puffs, as the puff may cause the spreading of tear drops.
“I tell the residents, don’t forget that taking the pressure with your fingers is still a very valuable information in case of corneal opacities … so train in getting your fingers to tell you if the pressure is in the normal range,” she said. Of course, wearing gloves is a necessity at the current time, and this can be costly and time-consuming, “but it will pass”, she says.
“The good news is that we know there will be an end of this pandemic. We already perceive our reduced clinical activities as being very long, but be prepared that there may be a second peak after this, so be aware that recovering your normal working rhythm will take time.”
“You cannot put the clock back, so it’s better to be optimistic,” she said.