Recent studies have confirmed rise in sudden and unexplained deaths in Nigeria. The researchers conclude that the deaths, which are poorly investigated, are due to cardiovascular diseases.
Cardiovascular disease is a significant public health concern responsible for 11 per cent of over two million Non-communicable Disease (NCD) deaths in Nigeria yearly. It is also responsible for a high burden of morbidity and disability. Most people with CVDs are not aware until catastrophes like stroke, heart attack or death occur.
The economic burden of NCD’s on families and Nigeria, in general, cardiovascular is significant because the cost of treatment is high, usually paid out of pocket and death is mostly premature, cutting victims at their prime.
As part of efforts to reduce the high incidence of cardiovascular-related deaths in the country, the Cardiology Education Foundation programme has partnered with the Cardiocare Multispecialty Hospital, Abuja to restore cardiovascular health for the less privileged persons from different parts of the country through its Interventional Cardiology Discount Programme.
Already, 16 patients have received between 80-90 percent discounted treatments for cardiovascular diseases at the Cardiocare Multispecialty Hospital.
A consultant physician and the Medical Director of Cardiocare Multispecialty Hospital, Dr. Oyindamola Awofisoye, lamented that there is an alarming increase in cardiovascular-related deaths in the country, adding that the burden of cardiovascular disease in Nigeria is highly underreported.
He said, “We have many Nigerians coming down with heart attacks, heart failures every day and a lot of these people had to pay out of pocket for their procedures while many people are unable to fund this kind of care in many situations. Most people resort to travelling out of the country to solve this kind of problem. The programme is targeted at less privileged people who cannot afford the treatment they need for their hearts. Interventional Cardiology Discount Programme wants to make good heart health affordable in Nigeria regardless of the complexity of the disease”.
“I am sure you are aware of people who develop breathing problems and suddenly slump and die. This is one of the many ways in which heart disease can manifest, we do cardiac catheterisation related treatments which is a process in which we use very simple treatments to treat complex heart diseases and most of them are minimally invisible procedures, you don’t need to open the person’s heart, you just go through basically an artery in the person’s arm or leg and use it to fix blockages in the arteries of the heart which could cause the heart to pump poorly and cause sudden death. In doing that, we restore health to people and reverse medical tourism in Nigeria.”
Awofisoye advised Nigerians to live a healthy lifestyle and do screening intermittently as well as have their blood pressure checked regularly once they are getting up to 35 – 40 years.
He said, “Unfortunately, many Nigerians still take pride in making statements like, ‘I have not been to the hospital before, I have never checked my blood pressure before because I am not feeling anything. No, it is not supposed to be like that. We don’t have to live with that mindset. The risk factors for this kind of heart blockages can be identified early and also corrected early.”
Awofisoye stated that one of the things noticed at the onset of COVID-19 was that people with cardiovascular disease were left undiagnosed and untreated because they were mistaken to be COVID-19.
He explained that people with cardiovascular disease whether previously recognised and diagnosed or not previously recognized and diagnosed are more likely to come down with symptomatic COVID-19 and with complications but the basic thing is to treat them very well.
Awofisoye observed that the major driver behind brain drain currently being experienced in the country is socio-economic and welfare issues, stressing that the cascading effects of the training of interventional cardiologists ongoing in the hospital, will spread to other health institutions and reflect on patient care over the years and can encourage some doctors to stay in the country.
Also speaking, a cardiologist from Dallas, Texas, United States, Dr. Tayo Addo, said that the Cardiology Education Foundation programme has been partnering Nigerian physicians throughout the country in the training and building capacities of Nigerian doctors to do cardiovascular procedures, especially those which allows cardiovascular surgeries to be done with very minimal invasive techniques so that patients can go home the same day or the next day after getting a pacemaker implanted.
He said, “We think there is a serious need for that, based on the population we have in Nigeria, there is a need for more centres and providers capable of these procedures.”
On how the Federal government can restore confidence in the Nigerian health system in order to discourage medical tourism, Addo said, “The issue of COVID-19 has limited the rate at which people travel outside the country. Since COVID-19 started, the rate of cardiovascular presentation for heart diseases has increased in the country because the ways of traveling out have reduced. There are many other developing countries that were in our situation years ago where their citizens went overseas for treatment but they built their facilities and developed capabilities of handling these procedures, developed the expertise and their citizens recognized that and now they get those procedures done at home. We need to duplicate these services throughout the country and establish centres of excellence so that Nigerians can get the same quality of treatment they get abroad here to discourage medical tourism.
We need more interventional cardiologists and if they have the same facilities here, they will remain her.”
On his part, an interventional cardiologist at the Cardiocare Multispecialty Hospital who also works with the University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital, Dr. Edafe Emmanuel, explained that the hospital has been having free programmes for people with coronary artery disease, people with heart blockage, and heart failure among others for the past eight years adding that these services used to be rare in the country.
“The Foundation is partnering with the hospital to get a very well discounted price, each of these interventions is very high but when the Foundation comes in, it is almost near zero,” he added.