x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Dubai's lifesaving initiative to heal young hearts in Sudan

Fifty children born in Sudan with congenital heart defects are to have free life-saving heart operations thanks to the expansion of a Dubai initiative.

DUBAI // Fifty children born with congenital heart defects in Sudan are to have free life-saving operations thanks to the expansion of a Dubai initiative.

Nabadat, which means heartbeat, was launched in 2007 to offer free heart operations to those who either cannot afford them, or who lack access to such treatment.

The initiative, created by Dubai Health Authority (DHA) and the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Charity and Humanitarian Establishment, has already helped more than 300 children.

Previously it has treated local and foreign children in Dubai but it is expanding its service to offer the operations in other countries. Sudan is the first on its list.

"This is our first international mission and one of many," said Dr Obaid Al Jassim, a consultant cardiac surgeon and head of the cardiothoracic surgery department at Dubai Hospital.

"Our goal is to help as many children with congenital heart diseases in the world as we can and to make them happy and healthy because - these children, they are the future of any country."

A team of seven cardiologists and nurses from Dubai Hospital, together with a seven-strong team from a specialised hospital in Saudi Arabia, will travel to Sudan on Friday for the one-week mission at Wad Madani hospital, 200 kilometres from the country's capital, Khartoum.

Dr Al Jassim said 50 children had been earmarked for operations, 20 of whom will have open heart surgery. The others will be treated for defects between ventricles or obstructions in their valves.

Through Nabadat the cost of the operation and post-operative care is taken care of for families who are already burdened with a very sick child, said Dr Al Jassim.

Heart surgery abroad can cost as much as Dh300,000, in addition to travel and recuperation costs. For many children with congenital heart defects, however, surgery is the only option.

"If you have 100 children born with congenital heart defects, how many do you see alive in 10 or even five years?" Dr Al Jassim said. "The answer is very few of these will grow up to see adulthood. Most will die without intervention. But with cardiac surgery, 95 per cent of them will live normal lives. It is lifesaving."

At the Wad Madani hospital, 250 children are waiting for heart operations.

But this number is too large for one mission, said Dr Al Jassim, so children have been chosen on the urgency of each case and according to financial need.

Previously Nabadat had brought foreign children to Dubai for free heart operations at DHA hospitals, but Dr Obaid said treating children in their home country helped minimise post-operative risks.

Doctors will return to Wad Madani and help other children in need, said Dr Al Jassim.

Nabadat is in negotiations to support children in Yemen and Bangladesh.

"These places, they do not have the expertise for open heart operations. They have got the people who can diagnose these kinds of cases but not the specialists who can treat them," said Dr Al Jassim. "So there is a lack of manpower. But we have the financial resources and the manpower so we have to help other people and other countries."

Dr Ahmed Mohammed Al Karani, the consultant paediatric cardiologist and head of the paediatric department at Dubai Hospital, said the team will also conduct a screening programme during the Sudan mission.

Early detection is crucial for treating congenital heart problems, he said.

"Nabadat is a symbol of hope for children with congenital heart diseases and their loved ones," said Ibrahim Bu Melha, the deputy chairman of the board of trustees of the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Charity and Humanitarian Establishment.

"It is our aim to reach out to those in need of our services and expanding this project abroad to places where such medical services are unavailable will help reach out to the youngest members of society who most require our medical care and attention."

He said the charity had an open-ended budget for the Nabadat initiative.