Uganda Heart Institute Signs MoU to Tackle Pediatric Heart Diseases

The Uganda Heart Institute has signed a new Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with an Italian philanthropy Mission Bambini to extend surgical care to children born with heart complications.

Speaking at a signing event held on Tuesday, Dr John Omagino, the Executive Director Uganda Heart Institute said that about sixteen thousand babies are born with congenital heart diseases each year. He said that while they have capacity of handling 75% of these cases, they are constantly grappling with high numbers of children awaiting surgery due to lack of resources to handle them.

Omagino says that until now, everything related to heart defects including simple diagnosis is handled at the Mulago hospital based heart facility which delays access to care and eventual treatment outcomes.

He said that the government is now planning to open smaller heart facilities at fourteen regional referral hospitals such that babies who need surgeries are identified early.

Already, he says government has put aside funds to conduct a thousand surgeries this year but challenges remain as they for instance lack perfusionists who are responsible for operating equipment, such as the heart-lung machine, during an open-heart surgery or any other medical procedure in which it is necessary to artificially support or temporarily replace a patient’s circulatory or respiratory function.

According to Omagino, this new partnership with the Italians which is targeted to span three years comes in handy as one of its aims is to offer staff training opportunities in management of complex pediatric cases and on offering post-operation care.

Under the same initiative, they will have periodical medical missions in which they will have Italian experts collaborate with the local cardiologists to hold two surgical camps in cardiac surgery and cardiac catheterization interventions each year.

According to Omagino, this is not the first time that Italy will be contributing to heart care as Italians did the country’s first heart surgery. Before that he says doctors were sent to Italy for training in 1995 before such services could start in the country.

Adalgisa Caraffini who spoke on behalf of Mission Bambini reveals that even before the MOU could be signed, they met the cost of consumables when ten young patients were undergoing surgery in May 2023.

While such surgeries are subsidized, it can cost a patient up to twenty million shillings for a surgery due to expensive sundries and medications needed. As a result, many children die unnecessarily when they can be saved if resources were available.

Dr Charles Olaro, the Director Curative Services in the Ministry of Health acknowledged these challenges and said they are working to increase access by first putting in place a center that will have bed capacity of the institute increased from the current 60 beds to 250 beds.

While they currently operate with only one theater and one catheterization lab, the new center which is being built using a 70million dollar loan will provide more equipment for more surgeries to be done for both adults and children.

He says 2,000 children require critical interventions such as cardiac surgery or catheterization each year.

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