Helping Little Hearts to mend


By Nurun Nahar Fatema

In Bangladesh, cardiac surgery for children is slowly developing. The Pediatric Cardiac Centre of Bangladesh Armed forces (located within the Combined Military Hospital, Dhaka)—one of the very few paediatric cardiac centres in the country—has earned a reputation at home and abroad for its outstanding achievements in the field of paediatric cardiac intervention and care. Around 4,500 interventions have been performed since it opened in 1998, including neonatal lifesaving interventions and other congenital and structural interventions. Also, around 6,000 cardiac catheterisations have been performed in addition to curative interventions.

However while the centre is capable of performing simple congenital heart surgery procedures and other centres in Bangladesh can perform other procedures, no neonatal surgical or complex surgical procedures are performed in any place of this country.  A few children, if their parents have sufficient funds, are treated at hospitals in neighbouring countries but most children with congenital heart disease will die untreated. Therefore, the management of congenital heart disease in Bangladesh is a problem because it is under-resourced country that has very limited healthcare facilities in terms of institutions, medical hardware and trained medical professionals in the field of paediatric cardiology. 

Because of these difficulties, I appealed to colleagues (Dr Redhyan and Dr Mansour al Joufan) in Saudi Arabia for help in improving the management of congenital heart disease in Bangladesh. They introduced me to the Little Hearts project, which is run by Muntada Aid. The project, which was officially launched in the Houses of Parliament (London, UK) in April 2012, involves Muntada Aid flying out a team of international medical professionals to different developing countries and providing free life-saving operations and interventions to children suffering from congenital heart disease who otherwise would have access to such treatments.

The charity has now conducted two charity missions in Bangladesh in collaboration with the Pediatric Cardiac Centre of Bangladesh Armed Forces: 26 October—1 November 2014 and 28 February—6 March 2015.  For this mission, overall, a total of 400 patients were enlisted from my evening clinic and from the Combined Military Hospital. Most patients were treated conservatively and many of them could not receive treatment because of time constraints and intensive care unit bed constraints. However, during the first mission, across five days, 21 cardiac interventions and 19 cardiovascular surgeries were performed and, this across seven days, 52 cardiac interventions and 27 cardiovascular surgeries were performed. The patients that were treated in the missions were selected by joint conference of cardiologists and surgeons of Bangladesh and the volunteer medical team—who consisted of paediatric cardiologists, cardiac surgeons, cardiac anaesthesiologists interventionalists, and nurses from Saudi Arabia, India, the Philippines, and Pakistan among other countries, and administrative support staff from Muntada Aid.

I am grateful to Muntada Aid for bringing the Little Hearts Campaign to Bangladesh and helping children, who otherwise would have had few treatment options. There are currently 200 children who are already on the waiting list for surgery and intervention to be treated in a future campaign.

Nurun Nahar Fatema, professor and head of Paediatric Cardiology, CMH, Dhaka and Lab Aid Cardiac Hospital, Dhaka, Bangladesh