7 March 2018

Rwanda: Sixteen Heart Patients Operated on at King Faisal Hospital

Penine Mukakibibi, from Musanze District, has suffered from heart disease for seven years during which time he was unable to walk and breathed with difficulty.

She spent two years visiting hospitals but medics failed to detect her ailment.

Later, she was diagnosed with Rheumatic Heart Disease (RHD) but remained untreated for five years due to lack of funds for surgery.

Mukakibibi is among the 16 patients who recently benefited from cardiothoracic surgeries at King Faisal Hospital, Kigali.

The outreach programme, which ran from February 26 - March 6, 2018, is courtesy of a special partnership that exists between the Ministry of Health and Team Heart, an international nonprofit.

"Prior to the operation, I could not walk because I was always short of breath and whenever I forced it (walking) I coughed blood. I also had difficulty with eating or sleeping. I was operated on Monday and now can eat and walk around a bit. I feel so much better and I'm so thankful for this support which has restored my hope for a better life," she said.

Heart operations are among the most expensive surgeries and a single operation costs over Rwf18 million.

The successful operations were conducted by a team of 67 voluntary heart specialists that included doctors, nurses and other medical specialists from the US.

The team arrived in the country early last month. This was their eleventh such mission in Rwanda.

According to Dr Joaquin Bielsa, the King Faisal Hospital, Kigali chief executive, the Free Heart surgery initiative is part of activities being implemented under their Oshen Healthcare Medical cardiologic treatment plan, which is aimed at, among others, building the hospital's capacity to handle specialised cases.

"We want to achieve a sustainable cardiology model under which a multidisciplinary team will be based at KFH all year round to care for heart patients," he said.

Ceeya Bolman, programme coordinator at Team Heart, said the types of operations that were carried out were rare and expensive, adding that the team carried out the surgeries voluntarily.

She said they are working in partnership with the Ministry of Health to establish a regional centre of excellence - to be located at Masaka in Kigali - in cardiac care, including cardiac surgery, rehabilitation and prevention, research and education.

The centre is expected to start operations in 2020.

According to Rwanda Biomedical Centre (RBC), there is a waiting list of 283 adults and 107 children in need of cardiac surgery.

Evariste Ntaganda, the director of cardiovascular diseases at RBC, said the development of capacity to handle such cases at King Faisal Hospital, Kigali, and the yet-to-be-established centre, is expected to significantly reduce patients' backlog in the near future.

He urged the population to quit certain lifestyle behind heart diseases, such as alcohol and tobacco abuse, physical inactivity, poor eating habits, among others.

In the region only Kenya offers such surgeries.

India is the most popular destination for heart patients because operations there are relatively affordable (from about US$10,000).

Team Heart has been conducting such missions in Rwanda since 2008, providing life-saving care to children and young adults suffering from rheumatic heart disease, a preventable disease from untreated strep throat in childhood.

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