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500 Ugandans stuck on heart surgery waiting list

FILE PHOTO: Heart surgery at Uganda Heart Institute.

Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | More than 500 people in need of heart surgery are stuck on the Uganda Heart Institute waiting list. Majority of the cases on the waiting list are children who make over 300 patients whose treatment is delayed by the absence of equipment and supplies to perform the surgeries.

Surgeries are required to repair or replace aortic dissections and valves that are not working correctly, to correct irregular heart rhythms such as atrial fibrillation or ventricular tachycardia and to fix or treat genetic heart defects.

The most common heart complications in Uganda are Rheumatic Heart Disease, Coronary artery, and abnormal heartbeats. Persons with Coronary Arteries require a Coronary Artery Bypass Graft (CABG) procedure, in which the blocked portion of the coronary artery is bypassed with another piece of blood vessel.

UHI Executive Director Dr John Omagino says that the institute has the capacity to treat more than 85 per cent of all heart defects recorded in the country, but has failed to clear the backlog due to insufficient funding. Dr Omagino says that many of the surgeries have remained pending for more than two years despite the presence of specialists to handle the procedures.

Dr Omagino says that the facility requires more funding and space to accommodate patients before, during and after the surgeries. The Uganda Heart Institute receives 4.7 billion shillings to finance its operations every year, which according to Dr Omagino, is a drop in the ocean due to the enormous need for services.

This, plus the lack of supplies leaves the patients stranded. Dr Omagino says that the institute would require up to 19 billion Shillings for its operations.

Meanwhile, medics observed that the cost of receiving treatment at the institute is cheaper compared to other countries like the US and India, where many Ugandans with cardiac diseases have sought treatment. The surgery costs up to 18 million Shillings (USD 5,000) at the Uganda Heart Institute compared to India where on average one needs 23 million Shillings (6,500).

Christine Katusiime, a patient with Rheumatic Heart Disease from Mbarara who was operated on four years ago in India says that the government needs to ensure that Ugandans get surgeries when they need them.

Dr Michael Oketcho, the head of Pediatric Surgery at the UHI says that the government needs to pass the national health insurance bill to bring lifesaving services closer to the people who need them.

“On estimate, 8,000 babies need surgical interventions for different heart disease but we can only carry out 100. Most of our patients do have money and are forced to remain on medication until they raise enough money to cover the cost of their treatment.

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