Paediatric heart specialists are reaching out to save young lives in rural areas

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"Prof Stephen Brown and his team are taking life-saving medical care to young patients in the rural parts of the Free State."  Photo: Supplied/ Prof Stephen Brown
"Prof Stephen Brown and his team are taking life-saving medical care to young patients in the rural parts of the Free State." Photo: Supplied/ Prof Stephen Brown
  • Forty children die in rural areas every year due to undiagnosed heart defects.
  • Paediatric heart specialists visit the rural areas to make services more accessible to young people.
  • At least 40 children per month receive a heart sonar, thanks to this initiative.


Prof Stephen Brown, a Principal specialist and Head of Paediatric Cardiology at the University of the Free State (UFS) and his paediatric heart specialists started an outreach initiative in 2016, where they go to the rural areas to diagnose heart defects in babies as early as possible.

"Every year, more than 40 babies in the rural areas of South Africa may die as a result of an undiagnosed heart lesion because everyone assumes that they have respiratory problems when they have critical congenital heart disease – up to 85% of which is curable, says Prof Stephen Brown.

Brown says this initiative help curb the death of young patients due to congenital heart disease, and to make services more accessible to rural communities where you find that some patient find it difficult to get transport to their central hospital.

Through many partnerships and donations, this initiative has seen 40 children per month receiving a heart sonar despite Covid-19 having a significant impact on their work.

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Prof Andre Venter, Chairman of the MACAH Foundation, says that their belief is that "the first 1 000 days in any child's life determine their trajectory for life."

"We should do everything in our power to ensure that this 1 000-day journey is optimal for each child, including conception, pregnancy, birth, and health during the first two years of life," he added.

According to him, this has helped make infant cardiac screening in rural areas a reality and make it a world-class service.

It seems there has been positive feedback on this initiative as Brown says that the families find this initiative fantastic since they can have direct interaction with their cardiologist.

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He also notes that when they come to Bloemfontein for further assessment, their faces light up when they see a familiar face.

This initiative does not only help these families but also their local institutions as well, says Brown.

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"A nurse keeps an eye on a young patient connected to the mobile echocardiography machine at the Bongani Regional Hospital in Welkom." Photo: Supplied/ UFS

"I also find that the doctors in the hospitals appreciate it tremendously – they find it easier to phone and ask for advice," added Brown.

The students from Cuba have joined Prof Brown and his team when visiting their hospitals, and they can spend some dedicated clinical teaching time together.

Submitted to Parent24 by The University of The Free State.

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