Treating Children With Advanced Rheumatic Heart Disease in Sub-Saharan Africa: The NGO EMERGENCY’s Project at the Salam Centre for Cardiac Surgery in Sudan

Rheumatic heart disease is endemic in Sub-Saharan Africa and while efforts are under way to boost prophylaxis and early diagnosis, access to cardiac surgery is rarely affordable. In this article, we report on a humanitarian project by the NGO EMERGENCY, to build and run the Salam Centre for Cardiac Surgery in Sudan. This hospital is a center of excellence offering free-of-charge, high-quality treatment to patients needing open-heart surgery for advanced rheumatic and congenital heart disease. Since it opened in 2007, more than 8,000 patients have undergone surgery there; most of them Sudanese, but ~20% were admitted from other countries, an example of inter-African cooperation. The program is not limited to surgical procedures. It guarantees long-term follow-up and anticoagulant treatment, where necessary. By way of example, we report clinical features and outcome data for the pediatric cohort: 1,318 children under the age of 15, operated on for advanced rheumatic heart disease between 2007 and 2019. The overall 5-year survival rate was 85.0% (95% CI 82.7–87.3). The outcomes for patients with mitral valves repaired and with mitral valves replaced are not statistically different. Nevertheless, observing the trend of patients undergoing valve repair, a better outcome for this category might be assumed. RHD in children is an indicator of poor socio-economic conditions and an inadequate health system, which clearly will not be cured by cardiac surgery alone. Nevertheless, the results achieved by EMERGENCY, with the crucial involvement and participation of the Sudanese government over the years, show that building a hospital, introducing free cardiac surgery, and offering long-term post-operative care may help spread belief in positive change in the future.

Improving standard of pediatric surgical care in a low resource setting: the key role of academic partnership

Background: An epidemiological transition is interesting Sub-Saharan Africa increasing the burden of non-communicable diseases most of which are of surgical interest. Local resources are far from meeting needs and, considering that 50% of the population is less than 14 years of age, Pediatric surgical coverage is specially affected. Efforts are made to improve standards of care and to increase the number of Pediatric surgeons through short-term specialist surgical Missions, facilities supported by humanitarian organization, academic Partnership, training abroad of local surgeons. This study is a half term report about three-years Partnership between the University of Chieti- Pescara, Italy and the University of Gezira, Sudan to upgrade standard of care at the Gezira National Centre for Pediatric Surgery (GNCPS) of Wad Medani. Four surgical Teams per year visited GNCPS. The Program was financed by the Italian Agency for Development Cooperation.
Methods: The state of local infrastructure, current standard of care, analysis of caseload, surgical activity and results are reported. Methods utilized to assess local needs and to develop Partnership activities are described.
Results: Main surgical task of the visiting Team were advancements in Colorectal procedures, Epispadias/Exstrophy Complex management and Hypospadias surgery (20% of major surgical procedures at the GNCPS). Intensive care facilities and staff to assist more complex cases (i.e. neonates) are still defective. Proctoring, training on the job of junior surgeons, anaesthetists and nurses, collaboration in educational programs, advisorship in hospital management, clinical governance, maintenance of infrastructure together with training opportunities in Italy were included by the Program. Despite on-going efforts, actions have not yet been followed by the expected results. More investments are needed on Healthcare infrastructures to increase health workers motivation and prevent brain drain.
Conclusions: The key role that an Academic Partnership can play, acting through expatriated Teams working in the same constrained contest with the local workforce, must be emphasized. Besides clinical objectives, these types of Global Health Initiatives address improvement in management and clinical governance. The main obstacles to upgrade standard of care and level of surgery met by the Visiting Team are scarce investments on health infrastructure and a weak staff retention policy, reflecting in poor motivation and low performance.