Ugandans getting free heart surgery in Sudan

Ugandans getting free heart surgery in Sudan
Medics conduct a surgery procedure at the Uganda Heart Institute.

Kampala, Uganda | URN | Ugandans in need of surgery for congenital and acquired surgical diseases are eligible for free surgery in Khartoum, Sudan. The service is offered by the Salam Centre, the only facility in the region offering free-of-charge, qualified cardiac surgical care.

The facility designed and built by EMERGENCY, an Italian NGO known for providing free healthcare to victims of war, poverty and landmines, has since become an immediate option for patients in Sudan, Egypt, Libya, Chad, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia and Eritrea.

Dr Jackson Amone, the commissioner curative services at the Ministry of Health said in an interview that patients who have been screened and need surgery for a vascular disease can be helped by the government to travel and be admitted for surgery at the Salam Centre for cardiac surgery.

Amone says that although Ugandans only started flying to Khartoum recently, the programme was conceived as early as 2004 when Uganda joined 12 other countries along the Nile basin to form a network called the African Network of Medical Excellence in which they agreed to come up with centres of excellence that could provide desperately needed care to people in need at a cheaper or no cost.

“These hospitals are free of charge. Patients who go there they don’t pay. The countries who signed the MOU will facilitate the arrangement for patients to go. Under that, Uganda has been sending patients to Khartoum. It is the ministry of Health,” said Amone.

While countries embarked on a move to search for donors to support the initiative, Sudan succeeded in 2007 when–the Emergency Humanitarian group based in Milan set up the heart centre., where most of the services are donor-funded. The Sudan government only contributes 30 per cent of the hospital’s annual running costs.

Dr Sulaiman Lubega, a consultant pediatric cardiologist at the Uganda Heart Institute (UHI) says that about 30 patients have currently been screened and are on the waiting list for experts from the Sudan Heart Centre to come and check and clear them for transfer to Khartoum.

Patients in the Salam Centre suffer mainly from valvular rheumatic disorders. However, even when statistics at the UHI show that about 300 suffer from rheumatic heart disease and need surgery, the centre only operates on persons aged 18 or below and have just acquired heart disease, not those born with the complications.

Some of the people who need those surgeries opt for treatment abroad while those that are operated at UHI part with between Shs 18 million and Shs 20 million.

Dr Tom Mwambu, who heads the adult surgery unit of the Uganda Heart Institute (UHI) says while those surgeries are complex and involve stopping the heart completely and wiring the patient on the heart-lung bypass machine, they can be easily handled at the institute with its current expertise. He says the Sudan Center took off when UHI was grappling with financial challenges.

Rheumatic heart disease is one of the commonest in Uganda. These diseases are often related to poverty and lack of basic healthcare for common infections like the strep throat which in the end lead to heart complications.

The only treatment for damaged valves according to experts is to surgically repair or replace them and if left untreated, the heart becomes unable to pump blood.

According to the Salam Centre website, EMERGENCY already signed a technical agreement and a Memorandum of Understanding with the governments of Eritrea and the Central African Republic with similar agreements being formalized with the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda to implement a network of medical facilities within Sudan and surrounding countries.

These facilities which will be mainly working as paediatric centres will be equipped with laboratory, echocardiography and radiology units to ensure screening of children and adults affected by cardiac diseases and follow up for patients operated at the Salam Centre.