Liberia: First Cardiac Surgical Unit to Be Built at JFK

The story of how impossible it is to perform heart surgery in Liberia could be fast changing with the launch of the Rescue Children’s Heart Foundation (RCHF) fun-drive, seeking to build the first cardiac surgical unit at the JFK Medical Center, an initiative of the country’s lone Heart Surgeon, Dr. Jonathan Hart.

The event, held Friday, December 9, 2022 under the theme “A Hand for a Child’s Heart”, brought together different stakeholders from all sectors to combine efforts in bringing this dream alive with children being placed at the center. 

Keynote speaker, National Fishery and Aquaculture Authority (NaFAA) Director General Emma Glassco, said she could imagine the feeling of people diagnosed with a heart condition, which is even more scary for a child. 

She said the occasion was not just the extraordinary sacrifices, professionalism and dedication by RCHF; it was also about the great courage and spirit of the children and other beneficiaries, providing an opportunity to save a life. 

“In the words of the late Nelson Mandela, ‘there can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children’. Your decision to establish this institution is derived from divine inspiration to save the future of our nation,” Glassco said. “We are delighted today to be here on this very special occasion, the Launching of the Rescue Children’s Heart Foundation and raising funds for the development of a functional cardiac surgery unit in Liberia.

“This organization, as per your project document, promises to be an invaluable new addition to the health sector of Liberia, addressing a very critical issue- children's heart health. Your action is pushing beyond the boundaries, raising standards of excellence and showing the way for others to follow. It is about new initiatives to save life and bridge a critical gap. Dr. Hart and team, we are all immensely proud of the fundamental role this institution has been playing, especially volunteering to take action. 

“A preacher once said, ‘The two most difficult things to do in Life are HOW to START and to END’. We are pleased that you have taken a step forward to START,” she told the gathering. 

She challenged RCHF to uphold their core values and provide the best in delivering equitable healthcare, especially for Liberian children and then adults living with heart disease, so that it is not a death sentence, but a means of hope.

The NaFAA DG revealed that national data shows that 198 children were diagnosed with heart disease over the past 5 years at the JFK Medical Center. 

The research on the prevalence and pattern of heart disease amongst pediatric groups in Liberia also established that for every 1000 children born, eight of them will have heart disease; while 72.6% of all children with heart disease in Liberia die without receiving treatment.

Glassco: “The situation requires serious attention especially where cardiac-related diseases in Liberia, once diagnosed, is a death sentence. Today, we are here not only to launch a new foundation, but to take a step forward in addressing this gap in the health sector. We are here to raise funds for the development of a functional cardiac surgery unit in Liberia.”

For his part, the CEO/Founder of RCHF Dr. Jonathan Hart, said congenital and acquired heart disease represent a significant global health burden and continue to be the major cause of mortality amongst neonates and infants; nothing one out of every 100 babies born has a heart disease and more than 50% require surgery; More than 21% of children requiring surgery are under 1 month of age while 40% requiring surgery are under 1 year.

However, Dr. Hart indicated that the majority of the congenital heart diseases are treatable with excellent prognosis and improved survival while a greater percentage of acquired heart diseases are preventable. 

Early Diagnosis and timely intervention are cardinal to improving outcome thereby giving the children a chance to live a normal life like any other person, stressing the importance of the initiative.

The project spans a period of thirty-two months (October 2022- April 2025) and is divided into three cycles. The first cycle focuses on resource mobilization which runs from October 2022 to December 2022; the second cycle involves training of medical staff with a budget of US$267,656.00 and the third cycle includes the procurement and installation of medical and/or surgical equipment, which sum up to US$455, 651.00.

The total cost of implementation of the proposed project is US$723,216.00.