Over 100 delegates from 20 countries– some from as far afield as Uganda, Egypt, Nigeria, Ghana and Kenya– were hosted at Netcare’s head office for a three-day training symposium, hosted by internationally renowned cardiothoracic surgeon, Professor Robin Kinsley.
Entitled “Master class in paediatric cardiac surgery – How I teach it”, the training symposium was aimed at demonstrating basic paediatric cardiac surgery techniques to doctors and other healthcare delegates from across the African continent.
With as many as 280,000 African neonates born annually with congenitally malformed hearts and with no access to treatment, Professor Kinsley says it is his fervent hope that the symposium will see paediatric cardiac surgery in many African countries receive a real boost and that more children with heart disease will receive much-needed treatment.
“We have organised this symposium for Africa as we have a particular problem on the African continent in that there is very limited surgery available for the treatment of congenital and paediatric heart disease.”
Dr Atilio Morais, cardiothoracic and vascular surgeon leading the team at Maputo Central Hospital- a large government hospital in Mozambique, echoes Professor Kinsley’s sentiments when it comes to lack of access to heart surgery in Africa.
“When it comes to events of this nature, it is important that the organisers include delegates from countries in Africa, as most are extremely poor and conducting heart surgeries within these countries is a big challenge due to a lack of resources, resulting in children dying unnecessarily.
“The experts in South Africa have a big responsibility to assist in saving the lives of people elsewhere on the African continent. In addition to resources, we desperately need the knowledge that we can gain at symposiums that are run by our South African colleagues who have vast expertise to share in this field.”
After working with Professor Kinsley from 2009 to 2011 after Professor Kinsley extended an offer of fellowship to him and some of his colleagues, Dr Frank Edwin, a cardiothoracic surgeon from the Ghana National Cardiothoracic Centre, has set up a paediatric cardiac programme in his own country after his return home.
“I have benefitted greatly from the time I worked with Professor Kinsley and this training symposium is particularly important to me as I am presenting a technique, which I developed while working with him. However, it is also a great opportunity for me and my team to interact with the other surgeons who are attending, so that we can all learn and share our ideas.”
The first day of the symposium saw Professor Kinsley together with Professor Richard G. Ohye, a cardiovascular surgeon from the University of Michigan in the US; performing paediatric heart surgery at Netcare Sunninghill Hospital, with video footage of the procedure streamed live to delegates at the symposium venue.
Day two and three of the symposium saw a number of leading local and international cardiothoracic surgeons covering a range of paediatric cardiac surgery techniques, followed by discussion sessions during which delegates had the opportunity to participate.
For Professor Ohye, attending the symposium was a particular honour, and he thanked the delegates who travelled, many from afar, and encouraged them to participate in the symposium discussions.
“I am here to discuss different ways to do things and I expect to learn just as much as I expect to teach at this conference. It is always best if it is a discussion with an interchange between colleagues. I have performed surgeries in Asia, in Central America and now here as well, and what is really amazing is that things are not all that different from place to place.
“There are techniques that are sometimes slightly different based on local resources, but the basics, the children themselves and the heart problems, are the same wherever you are born, as is the way we try to fix them. Symposiums like these therefore really become a great opportunity to share knowledge from all directions.”
Because open paediatric heart surgery is not performed in many countries in Africa and, if it is, it is normally on a minor scale, Professor Kinsley is hopeful that after the training symposium, paediatric cardiac surgery will become more commonplace, and that most cardiac surgery units will be performing more complicated surgeries on increasingly younger patients.
Dr Michael Sanusi, an adult and paediatric cardiothoracic surgeon from Tristate Heart and Vascular Institute at the Babock University, in Illishan Ogu State, Nigeria, is involved in the development of cardiac surgery in Nigeria.
“I’m really happy to have the opportunity to attend this symposium, which not only serves as a good refresher conference but sees a lot of discussions about high-level complicated paediatric cases and I am learning a lot,” he adds.
For Professor Kinsley, considering that these days, virtually every heart condition in children can be corrected or at least very well palliated, the lack of access to paediatric cardiac surgery in Africa is even more tragic.
“We have so many patients around the world who have been operated on as neonates and who are now fully grown, who have their own children and their own families and there is every expectation that they will enjoy a normal lifespan. I personally have performed 15,000 open heart surgeries, and as such, have thousands of former patients out there who can attest to the lifeline they have been given through corrective heart surgery.
“Going forward, in addition to the Foundation I will be establishing to spread awareness and raise funds for the plight currently facing so many children on the continent with heart conditions, it is my hope and dream that following this symposium, paediatric cardiac surgery in these African countries will receive a real boost, and that many of these children will be afforded the opportunity to have their cardiac related conditions corrected,” concludes Professor Kinsley.