Of the 1.5 million children born in Uganda annually, at least 15,000 have heart problems, the deputy director of Uganda Heart Institute (UHI) has said.
“Most causes of heart diseases in children are not known. However, there are infections such as syphilis and measles, which women get while pregnant and can end up affecting the unborn baby, as well as drugs such as pressure and stress relievers, including alcohol,” Dr Peter Lwabi, the UHI deputy director, said at a media briefing at the Heart Institute at Mulago National Referral Hospital on Friday.
“All these can affect the baby during pregnancy, making them be born with heart problems,” he added.
He was briefing the media during a medical camp for children with heart problems.
Dr Lwabi said whereas there are probable causes of heart complications at birth, it is simply bad luck for the babies because there is no proven reason why they are born that way.
Dr John Omagino, the UHI director, said of those born with heart problems, 8,000 require corrective surgeries, which are only done at the only heart institute in the country. He further said the institute can only offer surgeries to up to 1,000 people per year, leaving a backlog of 7,000.
“Before, we never had the capacity to offer surgeries or diagnosis. But today, we can diagnose. If the case is more serious than we can handle, we refer it abroad for the operation,” Dr Omagino said.
Despite this, he said children can receive surgeries such as catherisation, open heart surgeries and other minor surgeries at the institute but at a fee for those who can afford.
“Many people think that everything we offer here is meant to be free. But if we have free surgeries only, we will not be able to pay the surgeons who carry out the surgeries. We use that additional money to add to the surgeons’ and specialists’ salaries so that they do not leave the country and offer the services somewhere else,” he added.
The medical camp saw 10 children get free heart surgeries and seven receiving the catherisation operation.