By Sharmain Grainger
Purported differences that existed between the Ministry of Public Health and the US-based International Children Heart Foundation had essentially threatened the continuance of a paediatric heart surgery programme at the
Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation [GPHC].
In fact, scheduled surgeries for children with various life-threatening cardiac conditions should have been done last week by the Foundation which is also known as the Baby Heart Foundation.
The fact that no surgery was done gave considerable credence to the related fallout.
No surgery means that some ailing children will have to suffer a while longer with their respective cardiac condition.
Through a strategic collaboration with the Baby Heart Foundation, the GPHC, for just over two years, has been able to offer paediatric cardiac surgery at no cost. The only cost reportedly attached to the programme was what was required for a visiting Baby Heart Foundation team to travel and stay here for a week or two to conduct surgeries.
The Foundation first started its collaboration with Guyana in 2015 and since then some 130 children with cardiac conditions have benefited. This has helped to reduce the need for children travelling overseas for such interventions. Sending children overseas in this regard had, over the years, proven to be very costly not only to the relatives of the young patients, but Government too, which is obliged to offer financial support through the Health Ministry, where necessary.
What has become evident was that in recognition of the immense support Guyana has been receiving from the Baby Heart Foundation, a decision was taken at the highest level to have the situation resolved as soon as possible.
The resolution came this past week following a meeting between Public Health Ministry and Baby Heart Foundation officials. This development was easily verified.
In a solicited comment, Minister of Public Health, Ms. Volda Lawrence, intimated that all issues that had surfaced have been resolved and the programme will continue.
Although there were concerns that the continuance of the programme could have been in jeopardy, Minister Lawrence explained that this wasn’t likely since “there was a [national] budget allocation in 2017 for the Baby Heart Foundation so it has to continue…”
There were reports that the programme was compromised by what was believed to be some financial improprieties, but Minister Lawrence told this publication that these turned out to be “more a communication problem.”
The ‘communication problem’ resulted in flared tempers on both sides and the subsequent cancellation of a planned trip to Guyana to conduct a series of surgeries on children in desperate need of cardiac care.
Dr. Rodrigo Soto, the lead surgeon and Chief Executive Officer of Clinical Operations at the Baby Heart Foundation, also confirmed that moves were made to alleviate the issues concerning the programme.
Without sharing a great deal of details, he revealed that “We were dealing with some issues and one was related to some process between Baby Heart and the Ministry of [Public] Health.”
But the programme was faced with yet another shortcoming, Dr. Soto said.
The visiting Baby Heart team was not getting the full support of the Nursing Administration at the GPHC.
”Those two issues were discussed at the meeting with the Minister of [Public] Health and she was very supportive, and we kind of figured out the way to solve these issues and move forward,” Dr. Soto confided.
This means that surgeries will resume, but not until September. This is, according to Dr. Soto, who related, “we are definitely coming in September, and hopefully we will not have to cancel any other trips, because we know that every time we cancel a trip the kids suffer and we never know if we will see them on the upcoming trip.”
The Baby Heart Foundation conducted its first trip this year in February and others were slated for May/June and August/September period. On each planned trip to Guyana, a minimum of 15 children are usually catered to.
According to Dr. Soto, who has been conducting intricate paediatric heart procedures for many years, sometimes the longer a child lives with a cardiac condition, it could mean that an intervention could be that more difficult. As such, there is always a risk of mortality associated with conducting these surgeries.
But the experts of the Baby Heart team have been able to keep mortality to a minimum, even lower than what obtains in the United States and Europe.
”Actually we have been able, in 2015 and 2016, to maintain a 2.2 percent mortality rate which is extremely good, considering the average mortality in the US is three percent and in Europe it is five percent. So that is a very good outcome…we have been seeing some good results,” said a proud Dr. Soto.
In fact, he noted that there has been enormous progress in the last two years regarding Guyana’s collaboration with the Foundation. This is in light of the fact that the Foundation has not only been offering its expertise in terms of conducting paediatric heart interventions, but also training for both doctors and nurses at the GPHC, in the hope that they will be able to eventually take over the paediatric heart surgery programme.
GPHC’s head of Paediatric Surgery, Dr. Marisa Seepersaud, who has been benefiting from training, has been tipped to eventually head the programme which is expected to be on par with what obtains in the developed world, complete with a Paediatric Intensive Cardiac Care Unit at GPHC.
The administrators of the Baby Heart Foundation have reportedly committed to helping Guyana realise this goal too.
Given the effort that has already been plugged into Guyana having its own programme, Dr. Soto noted, “it will be a shame to interrupt this programme that is so beneficial not only for the kids with congenital heart diseases, but for all the critically ill children of Guyana.”
Despite the support that the Foundation has been offering, there are still many children awaiting the surgery.
Dr. Soto disclosed that during the past week he was able to screen over 1,000 patients. He noted that a lengthy waiting list for paediatric surgery is mainly due to a backlog of cases that accumulated over time, because Guyana was not able to offer paediatric heart surgery in the past.
Moreover, Dr. Soto is optimistic the programme will be sustained. “I hope there will not be any more hiccups, because Baby Heart really wants to continue to develop the programme and help Guyana get to where it needs to be.”
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