A team of 30 volunteers from Dalhousie University's surgical department recently returned from a trip to Rwanda, where they completed several surgeries to treat heart disease.
The team was welcomed to the King Faisal Hospital in Kigali, the country's capital, where they performed 13 cardiac surgeries, largely treating rheumatic heart disease.
The disease is often caused by strep throat infections that are untreated or not fully treated, said Dr. David Horne, a member of Dalhousie's surgery department and a pediatric and adult congenital heart surgeon.
Horne said volunteers travelled to the African nation this spring to perform valve replacements in adults and surgeries on pediatric patients with congenital heart conditions.
"I think most members realize the impact and how privileged we are and everybody comes back with the intention to go back to keep contributing and empowering the locals," Horne said.
The Canadian Rwanda Open-heart Project and has long been in the making, he said. It was pushed back several times by COVID.
Each surgery is staffed by about eight or nine people, including the surgeons, anesthesiologists, scrub nurses and ICU teams.
Horne said the disease is prevalent in developing countries due in part to a lack of primary care for patients who develop strep throat infections.
Dr. Keir Stewart echoed the sentiment.
"It's a disease that we don't see in North America anymore, or very rarely, but it's far and away the most common heart disease in Africa," said Stewart, another member of the university's surgery department.
"We've all had strep throat at some point in our life. We didn't think anything of it. It's a big problem, though."
He went on to call the trip a "tremendous success" and said there are plans to return to the country to treat more patients. "It was something to see everyone very committed."
The end goal of the project is to assist the Rwandan medical system in building an independent cardiac surgery centre, Horne said.
Stewart added that the project also seeks to establish educational programs that would allow students to travel between the two countries.
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