ENUGU- THE Chief Medical Director, CMD, of the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital, UNTH, Ituku/Ozalla, Dr. Christopher Amah, has asked Nigerians seeking heart surgery to come to the health institution instead of going on medical tourism abroad as the referral hospital offers state of the art facilities that meet the needs of patients.
Amah said that although the UNTH started performing open heart surgeries in 1974, it reinvigorated the process in 2013 through some indigenous doctors led by Professor Martin Anyaji who led other doctors to perform three open heart surgeries on Nigerians, adding that it has been success stories since then. As the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital, UNTH, Ituku/Ozalla Enugu, continues to perform its primary function of saving lives in the country, it has also added value as well as responsibility of saving Nigerians huge sums of money that would have been expended in medical tourism by performing open heart surgeries.
According to Amah, open heart surgeries at the UNTH were almost free-of-charge as they were being done in partnership with the United States of America, USA, based medical volunteer group, VOOM foundation and the Pobic Heart International Italy. “It has been confirmed that open heart surgeries can safely be done here and we have been teaching other doctors, nurses and people from other parts of West Africa. There is also some kind of collaboration from Bayelsa State; they come here to use our facilities and perform the surgeries, they also train their staff here.
“We have had many beneficiaries of open heart surgeries that comprise even our staff and journalists. We have also had a lot of free equipment donated to us from VOOM foundation. Popular philanthropist, Prince Arthur Eze has also been supporting by taking up some bills. He recently paid N6 million for six children.
“We are asking patients with heart diseases to use the hospital as it is almost free of charge, instead of spending millions of naira traveling outside Nigeria to receive the same medical treatment. This is the only centre that has been consistent and between 2013 and now we have done no less than 300 heart surgeries. The open heart surgeries cost N1m for children and N1.5m for adults in the hospital. This is much cheaper when compared to what is obtained in private hospitals in Nigeria or taking treatments abroad,” Amah said, pointing out that it was cheaper to undergo the surgeries in the hospital than going to Italy.
He said that about 50 children are on the waiting list for heart surgeries even as about one to two percent of the world population had heart related diseases. “Poverty, ignorance have not helped matters on the rise of heart diseases. It is a congenital disease and we preach that pregnant women do not take all kinds of medicine or local concussions, particularly women that have primary infertility problems,”adding that “some charity organizations are working on making it completely free by providing subsidies, but the hospital has not refused anybody surgery for lack of money.”
Amah noted, “at worst VOOM foundation will pay 50 percent and we pay 50 percent. People who have money should help and be more charitable. VOOM foundation is presently performing open heart surgeries in UNTH, particularly for children, with foreign experts who also share experiences and skills with their counterparts in UNTH to strengthen the indigenous capacity.”
He commended the Minister for Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole, for the support his ministry had been giving the hospital, even as the UNTH had done so much and deserved all the attention from the Federal Government. Amah said that heart diseases usually evolve at the formative stage of babies, noting that the heart is the most delicate part of the body during its formation which may be affected by drug abuse of the pregnant mother.
Founder of VOOM Foundation, Dr. Vincent Ohaju, who was at the operating theatre with his team performing open heart surgeries, said that the foundation had been helping UNTH not only on cardiac patients but in other areas.
Ohaju said “We bring volunteers and equipment so that you can have open heart surgery in Enugu where your family can visit you while you are on the hospital bed.”
He said that it was difficult to quantify how much his foundation had spent in the mission, noting that as a Nigerian from Imo State, he went into charity when his father died in Nigeria for a disease that would have been cured at almost any small hospital in USA.
A journalist, Mr. Ihemegbulam Okafor, who was the first patient to have open heart surgery performed on him in 2013, when UNTH resumed the operation at its permanent site at Ituku/Ozalla, said “Mine was a perfect job and I recommend this hospital for people with similar problems. I would have been flown to Germany where the expenses would have been more but I did it successfully here and I was the first in this permanent site.”
In the same vein, Miss Elizabeth Anyim and Adaeze Ogu said they were operated upon in 2013 and had been normal since then. “We don’t have any symptoms again and we give glory to God and to the doctors who operated upon us,” they said.
Dr. Festus Adedayo of Pobic Heart International, Italy, which is one of the organizations partnering UNTH to treat heart problems, said the organization had assisted in taking over 20 patients to Italy for treatment. “But we feel it will be better to do the surgeries in Nigeria, so that we can have more patients to benefit. We have taken complex cases to Italy and we are targeting a minimum of 20 patients for surgeries to be done here in UNTH this year. We take complex cases to Italy,” he said.
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