UNTH: Excelling in open heart surgery

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unth-open-heart-surgerySome foreign partners were involved but the 108 heart procedures at the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital in Enugu prove that even, critical ailments can be treated at home. Chris Orji reports for Nation

There are reasons to cheer the feat. One, those 108 heart patients have been put out of their life-threatening worries. They have been breathing better and can face the world with hope. Two, the fact that they had their open heart surgeries at University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital (UNTH), Enugu, not India or some country in Europe, shows that with more effort, even critical conditions can be cured in Nigeria. This will help, as the case of the 108 patients proves, that much-needed foreign exchange can be saved. Those 108 procedures were conducted at the hospital over two years.

UNTH known as the Centre of Excellence in cardiothoracic surgery was in the news recently when the resident doctors embarked on a strike over what they called “lack of equipment and amenities”.

But while the doctors were striking, the hospital was busy carrying out open heart surgeries on patients with various ailments.

A total of 13 patients were attended to during the current exercise, all of them adults. That of children will come up in November. The surgeries were performed in collaboration with two Indian doctors, Aerra Vikram and Parlapelly Srinivas.

The first open heart surgery at UNTH was performed in 1974 by the late Prof. Udokwu with the collaboration of Egyptian doctors. It was after that surgery that the hospital earned its designation as the national centre of excellence in cardiothoracic surgery.

The hospital continued performing open heart surgeries until 2003 when it had a 10-year interregnum due partly to its relocation from Enugu metropolis to its permanent site at Ituku/Ozalla, about 15 minutes drive from Enugu. The permanent site had no purpose-built facility for the programme.

But with the coming of the current Chief Medical Director, Dr. Christopher Amah in 2011, efforts to revamp the surgery programme were made and in 2013, the flagship programme for that designation came alive with the help of oversea partners who operate on charity.

With the help of these partners, the hospital was able to carry out open heart surgeries at subsidised rates. The partners also supplied equipment to the hospital with some of the best medical gadgets available in any part of the world. In fact, the leader of the Indian doctors that were in the current team, Aerra Vikran confessed to reporters that they do not have such equipment in their hospitals in India

While conducting reporters round the Open Heart Surgery Centre, CMD, Dr. Amah disclosed that with the treatment of the 13 patients under the current programme, the number of patients treated since resumption in 2013 totalled 108. The patients with various degrees of heart problems were successfully treated.

Amah said the bulk of the patients had been billed for surgeries in other parts of the world before the intervention of the UNTH Open Heart surgery and were   drawn from various parts of the country.

Amah said that the good thing about the exercise was that it was done at reduced cost compared to what the patients would spend travelling overseas, adding that the feat was made possible by the partnership the hospital had with foreign organisations.

Amah said that organisations like Voom Foundation, Rotary International, among others, had always partnered with the hospital to provide human and material support to the program, adding that the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) would soon become a collaborator.

He stated 13 patients were operated on in the current open heart surgery which began on October 19.

The CMD said the unique thing about the current programme was that only two alien doctors were in the team while 90 per cent of the medical experts were drawn from the hospital. This, he said, was an indication that local experts would completely take over the programme in the next few months.

“Our target is to do open heart surgery every month. We want to get to a point where we now do this routinely but more importantly at an affordable rate to Nigerians. We want to discourage medical tourism because of what Nigerians put into it. The UNTH is a centre of excellence and it is our hope that we keep the tempo”.

Amah told reporters that he was happy that the strike action embarked upon by Association of Resident Doctors did not affect the current programme, expressing regrets that the doctors could embark on strike over issues that never existed. He said those who embarked on strike action did not mean well for the hospital but were chasing after selfish benefits.

“The money they seek has no approval from federal government. We have explained this severally to them but to no avail. Instead they choose the part of blackmail and feeding the public with falsehood. It is a pity. They should retrace their steps for good,” he said.

He praised the patriotism of those doctors who stayed behind and joined in ensuring the success of the latest programme. He equally dismissed the claim by the striking resident doctors that the hospital uses candles and lamps to perform surgeries and that there was no water in the hospital.

“I wonder what they want to achieve by dishing out such falsehood. In the Open Heart Surgery Centre, we have 24 hours nonstop lighting with two 350 KVA generator sets and more than two functional boreholes for the centre. On the whole we have 13 boreholes being sunk for the hospital,” he stressed.

He explained that all the falsehood being placed on the management of the hospital was its decision to review some contracts in order to save costs adding that over N120 million previously spent on outsourced services handled by contractors per month had been saved following the decision to handle the services internally. These services were reviewed with effect from July this year.

The review followed the expiration of the five-year contracts in the area of laundry, cleaning and security services in the hospital.

He added that the review had also infused competition and efficiency in the system as more than one contractor now handle these services within the hospital.

Giving a breakdown of the figures, he stated that cleaning services that was contracted out for over N6 million monthly had been reviewed to about N3 million with two contractors engaged for the service, while laundry services had also been reviewed downwards from over N6 million to about N1.5 million.

Amah said the hospital was paying over N8 million naira for security services at the old and permanent sites of the hospital contracted to one security firm, but has now added one more security firm which are now paid a little above N6 million naira.

He disclosed that cutting of grass within the hospital premises that was going for about N12 million has been reviewed downward to about N3m following the donation of weed slashers by a friend of the hospital.

“It is something to be happy about because it will help us develop the hospital further. Some of these services were contracted out for upto five years before we came on board. We waited for the contracts to elapse to be able to look at them again and we are happy to report that the hospital has made some great saves. Each month we are making about N10 million from these services against what we were paying previously,” Amah stated.

He said the period of the contracts had also been reduced from five to two years, saying it was a way to monitor performance.

He said his desire was to make the hospital one of the reference centres in the country, regretting however that incessant strikes by resident doctors had affected the activities of the hospital.

He however, appealed to the striking doctors to return to work in the

interest of Nigerians dying daily owing to the absence of the doctors from their duty posts.

Amah added that despite scarcity of funds the management is currently rehabilitating Ward 9 to upgrade it to international status like the National Centre for Cardiothoracic (heart) surgery which has successfully performed over 90 procedures.

He said that the hospital facilities had been seriously given face-lift for improved service delivery adding that the Amenity Ward could be compared with any standard hospital overseas.

The CMD appealed to those instigating doctor’s strikes to rethink.

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