columnBy Noella Bigirimana
IN THE face of emerging Non-Communicable Diseases, the Ministry of Health and the Rwanda Heart Foundation have been able to devise an effective strategy to address cardiovascular diseases in our country. Through a partnership established with Team Heart since 2007, Rwandan citizens have access to cardiac surgery at King Faisal Hospital, annually.
Team Heart is a non-governmental, not-for-profit, organization based in Boston (Massachusetts, U.S.A). It consists primarily of volunteers from Brigham and Women's Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital, both Harvard-affiliated academic medical centers, and consistently top rated programs in the United States. The organisation includes specialists from medicine, nursing, perfusion, respiratory therapy and various non-clinical positions. Every year, Team Heart travels to Rwanda to provide comprehensive cardiovascular care, including mobilizing resources for screening at-risk individuals, and providing cardiac surgery to patients with advanced rheumatic heart disease.
This year, Team Heart began its 6th official visit to Rwanda on January 28 with the evaluation of potential surgery candidates, and surgery started on February 4th. The patients treated by Team Heart are receiving life-saving cardiac interventions, bringing the total number treated by this team to nearly 90.
Since 2007, more than 300 patients have received open heart surgery from expatriate cardiac teams. However, more than a humanitarian program, the partnership between Team Heart and Rwanda is a collective effort to ultimately establish a country-led, self-sustainable program in cardiac surgery - something that only a handful of African countries have been able to do. Rwanda is already at the forefront of health care in the region, and several initiatives such as the Human Resources for Health, are leading our country towards durable progress in the health sector.
Rwanda now has an opportunity to make remarkable progress in cardiovascular care. Partnering with prominent organisations like Team Heart provides advanced, state-of-the-art, training to key medical and nursing operating room personnel. Furthermore, the partnership provides the building blocks for a sustainable program, including screening program expansion, curriculum development, cost-benefit analysis research, and procurement procedures.
The implications for Rwanda and its health sector are major. Beyond improving health outcomes, such partnerships also enhance development prospective for the individuals and their community, and ultimately the entire country. Take for example the case of Jean Paul, a patient treated by Team Heart in 2008. Since receiving the life-saving surgery, Jean Paul has been able to sustain his family, and, also remarkably, he has taken a leadership role in his community and facilitates post operative follow-up of patients like him. Similarly, other patients have gone on to achieve competences that will undoubtedly benefit our nation.
There is an urgent need to address cardiovascular diseases, and other Non-Communicable Disease (NCDs) in low- and middle- income countries, where 80 percent of NCD- related deaths occur. Otherwise, this burgeoning crisis can worsen the health systems and the economic growth prospective of resource-limited countries, already battling other health challenges.
The partnership between Rwanda and Team Heart could inspire replication by other countries in the region and across the globe.
The writer works with Partners in Health