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Rwandan Healthcare Milestone: Local treatment for heart diseases now Available

In a significant gathering on February 23, 2024, Kigali played host to a pivotal meeting, convening leaders from the Ministry of Health alongside seasoned heart surgery experts, dedicated nurses specializing in cardiac care, aspiring cardiology students, and individuals who have undergone treatment and recovery. Their shared objective: to collaboratively explore strategies aimed at bolstering the nation’s capacity for treating cardiovascular ailments.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), heart disease claims the lives of a staggering 17.9 million individuals annually, solidifying its position as the foremost cause of death worldwide. Alarmingly, the mortality rate from these conditions stands at 14% each year. Experts specializing in heart disease treatment in Rwanda further highlight a concerning trend: a significant portion of patients presenting at hospitals with cardiac issues do so at an advanced stage, underscoring the urgency for improved awareness and timely intervention.

 

Nsangano Ethienne is one of those who were treated for heart disease through surgery in 2006 in a South African country.

He says: “The cooperation of my family and other people helped me to go abroad for medical treatment because at that time the medical system was not developed yet. I was very scared due to the difficult life I had gone through before and I wondered if I would be able to trust myself again. Will my life be useful in my country?

“Actually, all these questions that I was asking came to be answered slowly because the Government of Rwanda has been helping us in different sectors and we are getting the medicines that we were required at that time.”

Cardiologists in Rwanda, including Dr. Evaliste Ntaganda and Dr. Sendegeya Augustin, affirm that progress has been made in addressing heart diseases.

 

Dr. Ntaganda explains, “Heart diseases encompass two main categories: congenital conditions and acquired conditions that develop later in life. Acquired conditions may include enlargement of the heart chambers, malfunctioning heart valves, nerve damage, and more. Additionally, certain lifestyle factors contribute to heart disease, such as physical inactivity, which leads to an untrained heart, inactive until it’s needed.”

Dr. Sendegeya elaborates, “I began my journey in 2006, where we hosted teams of doctors at King Faisal Hospital to treat patients. However, the impact was limited as these visits lasted for a week or more, and not all patients in need could be reached within that time frame. It’s been over a year since we initiated a permanent program for the surgical and non-surgical treatment of heart diseases, catering to both pediatric and adult cases.”

Dr. Nkeshima Menelas, the director responsible for the education and development of medical personnel at the Ministry of Health, acknowledges the progress in treating heart disease in Rwanda but highlights the ongoing need for specialized doctors. He reassures Rwandans that efforts are underway to address this gap by increasing the number of medical professionals through education and training.

Dr. Menelas reflects, “There was a time when we lacked doctors capable of treating heart conditions or performing heart surgeries within the country. For instance, it’s been 17 years since Rwanda conducted its first heart surgery. However, considering the significant number of patients awaiting treatment, our national strategy focuses on expanding the pool of doctors and nurses.”

Cardiovascular surgery demands a high level of expertise, prompting the government, through the healthcare association (Mutuelle de Sante), to facilitate the treatment of heart disease patients at King Faisal Hospital. As the sole facility in Rwanda equipped to handle such cases, the Ministry of Health emphasizes that the hospital attends to a minimum of six patients daily, underscoring its pivotal role in addressing cardiovascular ailments within the country.

Carine Kayitesi

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