As Zimbabwe resumed the open heart surgery at major public hospitals yesterday, heart patients expressed excitement at the opportunity of accessing affordable healthcare.
Since Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals stopped offering the surgery in 2018, patients have had to travel to South Africa, India, Sudan and other countries for the procedure.
A heart operation in India costs anything between US$8 000 to US$15 000 depending on complexity of the case.
One of the first beneficiaries of the open heart surgery at Parirenyatwa who had the procedure done yesterday, Ms Blessing Bonda (29) said she was eager to have the surgery so that her life could return to normal.
“I was diagnosed with rheumatic heart disease in 2019 and I was told that I needed an operation to open my valves which were blocked. I have not been able to raise the money needed for the surgery.
“This year I had been scheduled to go to Sudan for a free operation being offered through an exchange programme, but we failed to go because of the conflict,” she said.
She expressed her hope of one day going back to work and being able to do all the things she had not been able to do since she developed the condition.
Zimbabwe has between 500 and 600 adult patients with rheumatic heart disease awaiting surgery while about 4 000 children born every year with congenital heart deformities that need open heart surgery.
However, owing to the unavailability of the procedure locally, many have succumbed to natural disease progression.
ZimHeart Trust, a support group whose main objective is to assist heart patients as well as to create awareness of heart conditions, has played a vital role in providing support for many of their members, some of whom have managed to get the heart operations done outside the country.
The organisation’s co-founder Mr Farai Chirikure said patients have had to bear the high cost of getting a diagnosis and accessing treatment for many years, hence the resumption of open heart surgery locally was a timely intervention.
“Closer to home in South Africa, heart surgeries are done well, but also cost an arm and a leg. Most people cannot afford them, even those on medical aid.
“A hospital in Sudan has been assisting Zimbabweans with free surgeries and medicines for a while. There is usually a waiting list and some do not make it to their turn. Unfortunately, due to the current instability in that country heart patients cannot travel there which has compounded our situation,” he said.
“We therefore welcome the resumption of heart surgeries at Parirenyatwa. This will go a long way in addressing many challenges.
“We believe this move will also attract support from local and international organisations.”
Mr Kudakwashe Chiwira from Gokwe said he had been fortunate to get the chance to travel to Sudan in 2012 for his heart operation but expressed sadness that many of his peers had not made it.
“I discovered the opportunity to go to Sudan by chance and I am happy I succeeded, but many have not had this opportunity. So this programme at Parirenyatwa has been long overdue. Heart patients are suffering in Zimbabwe but we are hoping that everyone in need of this surgery will get it soon,” he said.
Another patient Ms Sibusisiwe Chibaya, also a member of the ZimHeart Trust, said she had struggled with her conditions for years before being diagnosed.
She said although she had received assistance to get surgery in South Africa, many other patients who could not go abroad would benefit from this local initiative.
“This is an opportunity that has come through and we say hats off to our Government. We now see that when President Mnangagwa says ‘leaving no one and no place behind’ he really means it. The poor and those who are vulnerable can now be accommodated and can afford healthcare. We will see less of these Go Fund Me projects that were being abused,” she said.
She expressed hope that the Government would put a sustainability plan in place to ensure continuity of the programme.
Mr Tariro Ruwona, another heart patient said the life of a heart patient was an uphill struggle and having access to treatment was of major importance.
“The resumption of surgery service is a milestone and will be greatly appreciated as it will save many lives. With this programme in place we will surely see more people being diagnosed and getting treatment on time because delaying surgery may lead to many complications that can be avoided. As long as we have quality machinery and equipment and experienced doctors to handle these cases, the burden of heart disease will surely decline,” he said.