A MOST memorable occasion - Service of Heart through Heart - took place last Friday of 23 November this year at Serena Hotel in Dar es Salaam in a charitable atmosphere that revealed financial and logistical problems, which denied many poor Tanzanians medical attention they so much stood in need of.
On the day the government, the Lions Club of Dar es Salaam, Sathya Sai Society of Tanzania (SSST)- the country's branch of the oriental Sathya Sai Society, and the general public, gathered at the 230-room hotel to see 37 Tanzanian children with heart problems off to India for a free-of-cost surgical operation.
The children would be accompanied by 29 escorts on a flight dubbed "New Lease of Life". The occasion's chief guest Minister of Health and Social Welfare Dr Hussein Mwinyi expressed the government's joy at the charitable work by the ceremony's host Lions Club of Dar es Salaam and chief partner SSST.
Other collaborators in the charity were the city-based Regency Medical Centre, Ministry of Health Zanzibar and Sathya Sai Heart Institute- Rajkot, Narayaana Hrudayalaya Heart Hospital and Fortis Escort Heart Hospital, New Delhi, which made "prior arrangements to pick up the patients from the airport and hospital admission of the 20 patients and the stay of their escorts," said Dr Rajni Kanabar, member of both Lions Club and the SSST, and head of the Regency Hospital.
The Fortis Escort Heart Hospital would also provide heart surgery for the children at a concessional rate of USD 2,500, Dr Kanabar added. The government was impressed by this yet another charity act by the LCD, the SSST and their partners, benefactors who have so far done so much for the Tanzania's poor, saving lives and ensuring a bright future for many needy of the nation.
Heart illnesses have plagued many people in the country particularly the poor who can hardly afford the medical cost. "The government is impressed by your work for the people," said Minister for Health and Social Development through his representative at the occasion, the ministry's Permanent Secretary Regina Kikuli.
The 37 sick children's trip to Narayana Hrudayalaya Heart Institute in Bangalore and Fortis Escort Heart Institute in New Delhi would not be the last for Tanzanians with a heart case. "There will be many more as and when the occasion and funds allow," says the SSST chair Nathubai Sajnani.
The Serena heart ceremony only proved that heart problems has not only plagued the well-to-do of the urban centres, but that they have not spared the ragtag and bobtail of the rural community.
The poor from the countryside, whose children had been screened for treatment in India were immensely happy and grateful for medical service that the LCD, SSST and partners offered them. One of them Ignas Daudi, a farmer with a meagre income, said: "I could not afford the required 8,000 USD for treatment.
The 31-yearl old Daudi had a one year three month-old daughter Salome who had a hole in the heart. Her heart also had a defective valve. A resident of the hinterland of Singida, Daudi was grateful. "I am so happy," he told the 'Daily News', holding his daughter hopefully.
The resident of Kiomboi Village had had a difficult time to detect the problem of the little Salome. "Several futile attempts to diagnose the problem at Kiomboi dispensary earned us a reference to Mwananyamala Hospital in Dar es Salaam," he narrated.
From Mwananyamala they were referred to Muhimbili National Referral Hospital of Dar es Salaam where the child was positively diagnosed with a heart problem. Many children scheduled to fly to India with a heart case suffered from a bad valve or a hole in the heart or both like Salome.
A Dar resident Josephine Joseph had a daughter Allena, who also had a hole in the heart and a weak valve. Previously she had failed to fly the little girl to India for treatment owing to lack of money. But now Ms Joseph was elated by the assistance SSST and the Lions Club had offered her. "The medical cost of 8,000 USD was just too big for me," she said.
Many people are not so lucky to get heart treatment. The exorbitant treatment cost notwithstanding, many patients go to the hospital too late. "In many cases they come to the hospital too late," Dr Kanabar, who is also director of Lions Club of Dar es Salaam, explained.
"By the time they come to the hospital, it is too late and the heart problem is inoperable," said Dr Kanabar. A couple of things stand between the patients and the treatment they so much need. Daudi has to travel 50 km from his village of Kiomboi to the municipal hospital in Singida, the regional headquarters.
The journey is costly in both terms of opportunity cost and the available cash. Moreover, many parents are ignorant of what the symptoms of heart problems are and confuse them with other illnesses. Salome's mother says her daughter had a fast heart beat and frequently became ill.
But assistance is much now. Almost always, the government of Zanzibar and the Indian High Commission in the country has lent a hand to the SSST and the Lions Club and partners in sending heart patients to India.
The Serena Hotel event was significant in that it coincided with the 50th anniversary of Lions Club of Dar es Salaam and the birthday of the Sathya Sai Society guru leader and initiator, Sri Sathya Sai Baba reverently referred to by devotees as Bhagawan Baba.
The Indian guru advocates serving the poor in his proclamation of 'Service to humanity is service to Divinity'. Particularly though, he emphasizes giving assistance to those with heart problems. To scientists the heart is a muscular and mechanical organ, which works in accordance with scientific principles. To the late Swami the heart is much more than that.
"The heart is the seat of human emotions and the resident of the soul," he says. There can be no doubt therefore why the LCD call for donors to come forth and lend a hand to sooth hearts and why the SSST so readily sponsored 9 heart patients by paying for their tickets to India.
All the assistance together, through this Asian guru, who says, 'I have not come to speak on behalf of any particular religion... but of this duty and obligation to love', charity organizations of India have reached out to the poor and needy in Tanzania and with their partners in the country have served and still do serve the needy whose future otherwise had appeared gloomy.
"Sri Sathya Sai Heart Hospital Rajkot promised to perform 10 free heart surgeries in the next batch," Dr Kanabar said. Sajnani could not be happier with their work: "There are many donors with us, but we call upon many others to come forth so that we can help more people," the SSST chair said.