Quietly, India has been helping mend Afghan hearts. With hundreds
of children in war-torn Afghanistan dying of congenital heart
disease every year, many are now coming here for inexpensive
treatment, thanks to a collaborative venture.
"Hundreds of children in Afghanistan lose their lives every year
to complications arising from congenital heart defects. There is
little or no medical infrastructure in place and very few cases
are detected early, much less cured," Salim Bahramand, general
health director in the Afghan Red Crescent Society (ARCS), told IANS here.
For the past few months, Bahramand has been working closely with
the Max India Foundation to treat Afghan children affected by this
fatal heart problem. Together they have successfully treated 35
Afghan children and plan to expand the programme to treat, on a
monthly basis, 30 Afghan patients from all the 35 provinces of
Bahramand with his team has compiled a list of 2,200 patients,
mostly children from newborns to 11-year-olds, suffering from
these heart complications, in Afghanistan.
Based on the number in the waiting list and the severity of the
ailment, he sends them to Rehman Hospital in Pakistan or the Max
Hospital in south Delhi's Saket area.
Doctor Viresh Mahajan, head of department of paediatric cardiology
in Max Hospital, who spearheaded this project with Bahramand,
said: "One factor responsible for the high rate of this disease is
the prevalent custom of consanguineous marriage."
The disease being strongly hereditary in nature, the death toll
rises as first cousins after marriage pass the genes on to their
Shabnam, 6, was suffering from high lung pressure due to her heart
ailment and in six more months would have suffered a complete lung
failure. She was flown in from her hometown in Kabul a week ago
and given treatment.
"Doctor Mahajan has told me that she's in a stable condition now,
and within a couple of days, will resume a normal childhood. I
cannot thank him enough," said her father Mir Wais, 36, a
cartpuller in Kabul.
Just out of the intensive care unit (ICU), Muzdha, 7, welcomes
visitors with a faint smile. "The case of Muzdha is quite
extraordinary," Bahramand said.
"She was suffering from a complex cyanotic heart problem with
which less than 30 percent of the children live up to be 7. Most
doctors and experts had given up on her. Still under observation,
she's received the treatment well and is now expected to live a
healthy life in her hometown of Mazar-e-Sharif," said Bahramand.
Hari Boolchandani, head of International Patient Services in Max
Healthcare, told IANS that the cost of treatment is a major factor
prompting patients' families to come to India.
He said an American hospital takes $100,000 to treat these heart
complications while in South Africa it costs around $30,000. The
same operation in India, with one of the highest success rates of
97.5-98 percent, costs around $4,500-5,000.
The cost of Afghan patient's airfare, surgery and lodging is borne
by ARCS and the Max India Foundation together.
One reason for high mortality rate in Aghanistan, Bahramand said,
was the absence of proper equipment for fetal cardiography, a scan
through which physical complications in the foetus can be detected
"During cardiography, which may be carried out when the baby is
16-17 weeks old, if complications are detected early, which may
put the life of the child and its mother in peril in later stages,
the doctors usually advise termination of pregnancy. This
operation helps in containing child mortality rates to a great
extent," said Mahajan.
Mahajan and Bahramand are jointly working to train manpower in
Afghanistan to attend to immediate, minor cases.
"Purchasing equipments isn't the main challenge here, nor is
setting up the facility. The challenge is to produce trained and
qualified doctors who're capable of attending to these cases in
their home so that their dependency on us is reduced, and they
become better equipped to fight this battle on their own," said
"Currently, Afghan patients constitute a major chunk of
international patients visiting Delhi, and till political
stability is established there, we expect the numbers to
increase," Boolchandani told IANS.
ARCS is a non-profit organisation working for the people of
Afghanistan on the same lines of the American or Indian Red Cross
Apart from Shubnum and Muzdha, Parwan, four months old, Mina, 3
years, and Miwand, 7, who were suffering from lethal complications
like a hole in the heart to a leaking valve in the heart, have
found new life thanks to this collaborative effort.
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