25 February 2013

Uganda: Twenty-Three Children Undergo Surgery for Congenital Heart Defects

"My son, Edrick Mirimu, had been sickly since he was born. Whenever he coughed, his heart would pump so fast that he would vomit.

He also had a fever. For almost two months, he did not have appetite for food or breast milk," recalls Cynthia Nalunga, a resident of Namulanda on Entebbe Road.

When her son made nine months, his health condition worsened. "I took him to Namuddu Clinic in Kajjansi on Entebbe Road, but the doctor referred us to Mulago Heart Institute," she says.

In 2012, the doctors at the heart institute diagnosed Nalunga's son with congenital heart defect. This marked the beginning of a number of agonising trips to the hospital in search of a cure.

"We would go to Mulago Hospital every two months because my son's cough and fever persisted," Nalunga recalls.

Last week, a team from the World Children's Initiative (WCI), a US-based non-profit organisation, joined hands with the heart institute medical team to perform paediatric cardiac catheterisation in Uganda.

Twenty-three children, including Nalunga's son, were treated free-ofcharge Causes and symptoms According to Peter Lwabi, a consultant cardiologist at Mulago Hospital, there are no known causes of congenital heart defects.

However, some times, heart diseases could be caused by drug ingestion, alcohol abuse, especially during pregnancy and infections like German measles. Congenital heart defects can also be genetic.

He says the most common symptoms of congenital heart defects are poor growth, fast breathing, fatigue and profuse sweating.

Although there are no methods to prevent congenital heart defects, they can be corrected. This can extend a child's life for an average of 40 years.

Treatment Sadly, in Uganda, the unavailability of resources, coupled with lack of expertise worsen the situation. On average, every year, 10,000 children in Uganda are born with congenital heart defects.

Of these, 60% are corrected. Most children born with heart defects develop recurrent respiratory infections, pulmonary insufficiency, cardiac failure and early mortality at the age of five.

A few children have been able to access treatment abroad, but at a steep cost of $25,000 (about sh65m) per child.

Hope However, not all hope is lost. WCI has also organised an educational clinical training programme in India to train Ugandan doctors and healthcare providers on how to treat children with heart defects.

In addition, WCI will also develop a curriculum to train nurses and other staff at Mulago Hospital to perform complex medical procedures.

"Over the past two years, the Ugandan Government built the Uganda Heart Institute and Cardiac Catheterisation Laboratory. WCI designed and equipped the cardiac catheterisation laboratory, where procedures will be performed," says Shejal Carpenter, an administrator at WCI.

Carpenter says WCI is dedicated to improving health care and educational systems for children in developing areas country-wide. The project was founded by two physicians and an attorney.

Carpenter further discloses that WCI's Dr. Kanishka Ratnayaka, who was in Uganda last week, is one of its founders. With the support of former US presidents George Bush and Bill Clinton, WCI built a children's hospital in Sri Lanka.

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