Rwandans to independently handle open-heart surgeries

Rwandan medics are set to independently start carrying out open-heart surgeries this year, a milestone for the country’s health sector.

For about ten years now, open heart surgeries have been done by experts from outside the country who could come once a year to deal with a waiting list of patients that needed the service.

However, King Faisal Hospital (KFH), Kigali has laid out plans to commit the entire procedures into the hands of Rwandan medics, a development that is expected to materialize by the end of this year, according to the hospital’s administration.

Speaking at a news conference yesterday at the hospital’s premises, Dr Edgar Kalimba, the Acting Chief Executive Officer at KFH, told journalists that a lot is in place and more is being done in preparation for the independently done surgeries.

One of the main things that have made it possible is the fact that Rwanda’s first cardiothoracic surgeon was able to finish his studies and came back home in 2019 to serve.

The cardiothoracic surgeon, Dr Maurice Musoni, is now working at KFH, and under the mentorship of foreign doctors, he has been able to carry out four open heart operations this month, and will carry out four more others soon – as he prepares to work with other Rwandan medics later in the year.

“Three of these patients are ready to leave the Intensive Care Unit, one not yet since we operated on him today,” said Musoni.

Team Heart, a group of medics from the USA has been making annual missions to Rwanda for about ten years to treat patients with heart diseases.

The team is currently working with KFH to mentor the Rwandan medics, to see that they are comfortable and confident enough to do surgeries on their own.

“We have been coming here since 2008, performing heart surgeries and also carrying out trainings. Our goal was to have a prominent team doing heart surgeries on a permanent basis, run by Rwandan people,” Dr Chip Bolman, the Founder of Team Heart told journalists.

“We have been coming to the country for operations, but this has changed starting from this week, since we are going to only be coming in as mentors to help the Rwandan team prepare, be comfortable and confident enough that they can do this on their own.”

Bolman said Team Heart has planned about four trips to Rwanda this year, and towards the end of these he hopes that “with proper case finding and increasing confidence,” the Rwandan team will be able to start doing operations on their own.

According to Dr Kalimba, about 1000 patients in Rwanda are waiting to have heart surgeries. With a Rwandan team carrying out surgeries on a permanent basis, Kalimba hopes patients will have more access to the services as opposed to the previous times when they had to wait for a once-a year visit from Team Heart.

Kalimba said that KFH has the basics needed for the heart surgeries. Currently, the hospital has a cardiothoracic surgeon, two perfusionists (specialised healthcare professionals who use the heart-lung machine during cardiac surgery), nurses specialized for operations, anaesthesia experts, in addition to the equipment required for heart surgeries.