Lilliane Barenzi writing in The Monitor…
The first open heart surgeries in Uganda have been carried out successfully. Two teenage patients, Mark Atwine, 14, from Bushenyi and David Kalegera, 17, from Bwaise, Kampala were the recipients of the life-saving surgery over the weekend at International Hospital Kampala (IHK).
A Ugandan team, led by a Ghanaian cardio thoracic consultant surgeon Clement Akomea Agyin and assisted by perfusionist John Francis Nelson from St. Anthony’s Hospital in London performed the 4-hour landmark surgeries at Namuwongo, Kampala. Both patients are recovering well in the intensive care unit and will be monitored closely over the next four weeks. Speaking outside the room where the boys lay hooked to monitors, their parents expressed profound gratitude to God and IHK.
“We had given up on David. We were told we needed Shs15 million to go to India for an operation, but where could we ever find such money?” his mother Justin Mukarulinda mused aloud.
The hospital, through its charity project Hope Ward, paid the entire costs for both surgeries, amounting to $15,000 according to Dr Ian Clarke, the proprietor.
“This is a benchmark surgery for the hospital in terms of building capacity for this sort of operation”, he said, adding that seven more heart patients will be selected for a similar procedure in September.
According to Dr Tom Mwambu of Mulago Heart Institute, over 200 heart patients require operations for various simple and complex congenital heart diseases.
The two boys were elected for operations because they presented high chances for the best possible outcome.
Both suffered from a condition known as ASD, Arterial Septal Defect, commonly referred to as a “hole in the heart”, which causes an irregular movement in the heartbeat. ASD sufferers typically fail to thrive as children, and in many instances die very young because the cost of surgery is prohibitive.
It costs about $11,000 (Shs19 million) to send a patient and caretaker to Madras Mission Hospital, though the surgery alone costs $6,000 (Shs10 million). According to IHK’s Dr Moses Galukande, “Most heart patients in Uganda can’t raise the money and they deteriorate and eventually die.”
The high-tech surgery involves about thirty critical steps, and according to Dr Clarke, “is not just a question of having a heart by-pass machine”. Dr Mwambu confirmed that Mulago Hospital has had a by-pass machine lying unused since 2002 but they require ‘a few more expensive accessories’ in order to carry out life-saving surgeries. He, however, hinted that Mulago Hospital might be performing heart surgeries by the end of the year.
With the visiting consultants from St. Anthony’s, IHK plans to perform about 30-40 open-heart surgeries on ASD patients every year. The cost of each operation is estimated at about Ushs10million for paying patients, but where possible, cost-sharing opportunities will be explored.
“With government support, we can do more, especially for patients who can’t afford these fees”, Dr. Clarke said. “What would be useful are more private-public partnerships to offer local quality care to the poor in Uganda.”
Last year, seven heart patients had open-heart surgery at King Faisal Hospital in neighbouring Rwanda, performed by a South African medical team.