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Hope for children with heart defects

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Tamary Chikiwa
in BULAWAYO

AUTHORITIES have joined hands with a local civil society organisation in a bid to mitigate the distressing deaths of children born with heart defects in the southern region — where 34 babies succumbed to congenital heart disease (CHD) last year.
The director for non-communicable diseases in the Health and Child Care ministry, Wenceslas Nyamayaro, confirmed to the Daily News yesterday that the government would work with Brave Little Hearts Zimbabwe (BLHZ) to fight the disease here.

This comes after Mpilo Central Hospital, which is the biggest referral hospital in the southern region — covering the whole of Mata beleland, Masvingo and Midlands — stopped conducting open-heart surgeries more than a decade ago. It also comes amid rising deaths of infants succumbing to CHD, which is caused by the abnormal formation of the heart during foetal development.

“We are glad to partner with them (BLHZ) and we will work together to fight this disease that is robbing us of young lives. “It’s really sad given the number of deaths being recorded. Our biggest challenge is that we do not do surgery here in Zimbabwe as you know Mpilo and Parirenyatwa ceased operations years ago.

“We are hoping that this will be addressed soon as it’s really an urgent matter,” Nyamayaro further told the Daily News.

“It is critical that we urgently address this matter because we lose a lot of foreign currency when we send patients outside the country. “A few people also can afford the fees charged for the required surgeries,” he added.

Nyamayaro also praised BLHZ director Tendai Moyo for working tirelessly to raise awareness on the plight of CHD patients in the region. “Such people who stand up and advocate for health rights are most welcome to our ministry.

We are open to partner with them and assist each other in fighting diseases,” he said. Patients with conditions needing such procedures in Zimbabwe have been seeking treatment outside the country, where costs range from US$10 000 to US$15 000 — which is way beyond the reach of many Zimbabweans.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) lists CHD as one of the most life threatening noncommunicable diseases, with one in every 100 children born with a heart defect.

Last year, Bulawayo Provincial Affairs minister Judith Ncube called upon health authorities to urgently provide funds for the resumption of open-heart surgeries at Mpilo Hospital.

“I petitioned the minister of Health (Constantino Chiwenga) through a formal letter, asking for resources to resuscitate our cardiac surgery unit at Mpilo Central Hospital — after realising that this is a very urgent matter costing our little children’s lives.

“It is sad that children suffering from CHDs are dying because they cannot access treatment within the region. “Mpilo Central Hospital no longer has the services and urgent action is needed to establish one,” Ncube told the Daily News then.

Congenital heart disease, or congenital heart defect, is a heart abnormality present at birth. The problem can affect heart walls and valves, and blood vessels.

There are numerous types of congenital heart defects. These can range from simple conditions that don’t cause symptoms, to complex problems that cause severe, life-threatening symptoms.

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