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News Middle East & Africa

A UHI patient with rheumatic heart disease (image) died because she was not treated in time. (Photo: Dr. Edwin P. Ewing, Jr.)
Apr 25, 2013 | News Middle East & Africa

Unqualified surgeons? Heart institute said to refer majority of patients

by Surgical Tribune

KAMPALA, Uganda: Following the death of a 21-year-old woman in Uganda, who passed away while waiting for treatment in India, reporters have investigated the circumstances at the Uganda Heart Institute (UHI) in Kampala. Even though the government fully equipped the institute’s cardiac catheterisation unit last year, patients are still sent abroad for surgery.

As reported by Codewit World News, Emmanuel Twinamatsiko, uncle of the recently deceased Joan Asiimire, met several people who had also been referred to hospitals abroad while he was trying to collect money for Asiimire’s treatment. The young woman, who suffered from rheumatic heart disease and was referred to India for treatment, passed away while waiting for the funds to pay for the treatment.

According to institute director, Dr John Omagino, the country has been losing US$20 million annually on travel alone for heart patients seeking treatment abroad. If these operations were carried out locally, it only would cost US$4 million a year.

In 2012, the government fully equipped the institute’s cardiac catheterisation unit, where doctors can visualise heart structures, diagnose the precise nature of cardiac diseases, and perform minimally invasive, corrective heart procedures. However, according to a source, the institute lacks the expertise to carry out any heart operations, except for simple congenital heart defects, the website reported.

According to the source, most of the surgeons at the institute have not undergone specialised training to become cardiothoracic surgeons. As they lack the necessary experience, they are not sufficiently confident to operate on all cases and refer many of these cases. The source also stated these doctors are mostly general surgeons who attended a course for two years or less after obtaining their Bachelor’s degree in Medicine and have not undergone the six extra years of training after the five years of medical school compulsory for a cardiothoracic surgeon.

Robert Ssebunya, chairman of the institute, disputes such claims. According to him, referrals abroad are a result of Ugandans not appreciating the services that the institute offers. “There is no reason that Ugandans would raise US$15,000 to 20,000 to take a patient abroad when we have the UHI,” he told Codewit World News. “Before, we had a problem with equipment but today we have no excuse because we have a number of surgeons with a great deal of experience, and we are carrying out open heart surgery at the institute.”

Twinamatsiko, however, says nobody at the institute ever suggested or told him about the possibility of his niece’s operation being performed at the UHI.

In a meeting with members of the institute, Uganda’s president, Yoweri Museveni, announced that the government would support the institute to procure urgently needed equipment worth US$4.5 million to put the newly installed multibillion-dollar heart operation unit into operation. Once completed, it will have the capacity for 1,000 procedures per year.

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