Ethiopia is showing signs of economic progress but 78 per cent of its 86 million people still have to live on about Dh6 a day. Preventable diseases including malaria account for at least 60 per cent of the country’s health problems. The life expectancy of the average local is around 59 years – hardly surprising given that state health expenditure is under Dh80 per person per year. And for every 1,000 children five years old and younger there are 166 deaths.
Dr Khan’s Ethiopian team is determined to make a difference. It is made up of experienced doctors, nurses and technicians from hospitals including London’s Basildon, Royal Brompton and Harefield – as well as Ethiopian colleagues. The British members have taken unpaid leave to volunteer in the east African nation for UK charity Chain of Hope, which provides freeof-cost corrective surgery and treatment for children with life-threatening heart conditions across the world.
Fresh despite an eight-hour flight, they have immediately decamped to the Cardiac Centre Ethiopia, a shiny new building that sits proudly in the centre of bustling Addis Ababa.
It was set up in 2009 following a £500,000 (Dh2.96 million) donation from Chain of Hope to fund two cardiac operating theatres and a six-bed intensive care unit.
The centre had been the dream of Ethiopian doctor Belay Abegaz for 20 years. He travelled the dusty roads of his country trying to raise money to make it a reality by trumpeting the slogan, “One birr for one heart.” (A birr equates to about 20 fils.) Professor Sir Magdi Yacoub, the eminent UK heart surgeon who founded the Chain of Hope, heard of Dr Abegaz’s quest and stepped forward to help.
In 2009, Professor Yacoub led the first Chain of Hope volunteer medical mission to Ethiopia, which saved 12 children’s lives. Since then, the world’s leading consultants such as Professor Yacoub and Dr Khan have treated 700 children and young adults in Addis Ababa.
They are also training Ethiopian doctors and nurses so the project can one day be self-