By Etenesh Abera @EteneshAb
Addis Abeba, January 05, 2022 – Founded 32 years ago, the Children’s Heart Fund of Ethiopia is the only non-government cardiac center that is providing full pediatric cardiac surgery. The center has successfully carried out surgeries on children in need of the center services from all across the country.
One such example is Esubalew is a 12 years old boy from Hossana town in the Southern Nations, Nationalities and People’s Region (SNNPR). He was accompanied by his aunt Aschalech Belay, who told Addis Standard that he had the condition since infancy. She said,“ We have been following his cardiac disease in hospitals for the last 10 years. After waiting for a long time we finally got to access the services of the cardiac center. He had the surgery last week.” Aschalech praised the efforts made by the center to provide medications free of charge which eases the burden on families that are not residents of Addis Abeba and face financial challenges.
Another beneficiary of the center is Abayneh Debeb, a father of three who came from Debre Markos, Amhara region. He is currently waiting for his son’s surgery at the center. He said, “Two children of mine, a son of 8 years and a daughter of 6 years old suffer from heart conditions. Thankfully, my daughter already had her surgery weeks ago.”
Nahom Sintayehu, the head of public relations at the center told Addis Standard that the center faces many challenges that stand in its way of performing at full capacity.
Challenges facing the center
According to Nahom, the center receives from 10 to 12 children with heart conditions from all over the country on a daily basis. He explained,“ Our operating capability is up to 1,500 surgeries annually but because of many constraints we are limited to 500 surgeries per year.”
He added, “Our plan is to up the numbers to 720 surgeries in the coming year.” The center’s PR couldn’t disclose the number of patients on the waiting list because the center is in the process of transferring its records from manual archives to a digital system data processing system. However, in 2019, an Addis Standard report revealed that more than 7,000 children were on the waiting list.
The PR cited countrywide research and said that 16% of the country’s population suffers from cardiac conditions. Challenges affecting the work of the center in the last two years include the Covid-19 pandemic with related economic and social impacts. Nahom said’ “Since, our patients come from all over the country, travel bans created a temporary problem which was fixed with telecommunication follow-ups,” he added, ” Covid-19 prevention measures for children admitted for surgery and their caregivers became an additional expense on the center.”
But he argued that medical equipment was the biggest limitation facing the center during the pandemic since more than 80% of medical equipment are imported. He said, “While most of the challenge was addressed by support from international donors, there was a significant increase in the support we used to receive from the Ministry of Health (MoH) and Ethiopian Public Health Institute (EPHI),” he added, “Even those monthly donations were not collected properly as a result of of a disrupted economic movement. For instance 6710, a hotline provided by Ethio-Telecom to garner donations of as much as 300,000 to 400,000 ETB per month. Now we receive only 30,000 – 40,000 ETB per month as a result of effects of the global pandemic.”
Despite the aforementioned challenges, Nahom remains optimistic that the coming year will be more productive. He said, “There are volunteer individuals and institutions who work exclusively on social corporate responsibilities to support us.” He mentioned the work of Nazret school students who volunteered to assist the center with transferring records to a digital system during their school break.
He said that the help received went a long way in easing the challenges faced by the center during the pandemic. He said,” In recent years, financial institutions are playing a very important role in carrying out their social responsibility.”
Nahom also noted the role universities’ referral hospitals played in easing the burden on the center. He said, “Our center signed a memorandum of understanding to work with Hawassa and Gonder universities. We are preparing to sign with an MoU Jigjiga and Arsi universities,” he added, “Working with the universities is an opportunity for us since they have their own annual budget. It also eases the shortage of medical equipment and they can be imported easily through governmental supply chains.”
Moreover, he explained that the center is focused on building a high-end cardiac center, securing all needed medical equipment, securing enough human resources, and ensuring the sustainability of the center. He said, “For the last 10 years we have been working on securing the sustainability of the center,” added, “One of the projects that will ensure sustainability is the health apartments in which will cost us 25% of the total annual budget of the center. Most of the medical equipment and consumable goods are covered by donations.”
Nahom underscored, “Even after our center is fully operational, it is not enough for the whole country. We need at least two or three such centers. As public relations, we are working on different income-generating mechanisms. We have already opened accounts in several commercial banks for direct donations from the diaspora.”
According to Nahom, three years ago, the children’s Heart Fund of Ethiopia assigned prominent actress Meseret Mebrate as the center’s Goodwill ambassador. She has been promoting the center countrywide and abroad. During her recent travels to the United States, Meseret raised 6,000,000 ETB and linked medical and non-medical professionals with the center to provide material support in a sustainable way.AS