Men­tored medi­cos bring it home

The Australian - - THE NATION - TESSA AK­ER­MAN

Ethiopian sur­geon Yayu Mekon­nen knows that the skills he is learn­ing at Mel­bourne’s Royal Chil­dren’s Hospi­tal will be in ur­gent de­mand when he re­turns to Africa next year.

There are an es­ti­mated 420,000 chil­dren in Ethiopia un­der the age of 15 with di­ag­nosed or un­di­ag­nosed heart con­di­tions.

“They need this care and they need it des­per­ately,” Dr Mekon­nen said.

Dr Mekon­nen stud­ied in Ethiopia un­der one of just two car­diac pae­di­a­tri­cians in the coun­try be­fore trav­el­ling to Is­rael with the char­ity Save a Child’s Heart and then to Mel­bourne to com­plete his train­ing.

“(Mel­bourne has) one of the top-notch car­dio sur­gi­cal units in the world,” he said.

While his men­tor helped him de­cide he wanted to spe­cialise in pae­di­atric car­diac surgery, it wasn’t un­til Dr Mekon­nen went to Is­rael that he first watched a car­diac surgery be­ing per­formed.

Save a Child’s Heart has treated al­most 5000 chil­dren from 57 coun­tries since it was founded in 1995 and was re­cently awarded the United Na­tions Pop­u­la­tion Award for its con­tri­bu­tion to hu­man­ity.

Its doc­tors have ex­am­ined more than 9500 chil­dren in car­di­ol­ogy clin­ics in coun­tries in­clud­ing An­gola, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Jor­dan, Moldova, Nige­ria, Rwanda, Tan­za­nia, Ukraine, Zam­bia and Zanz­ibar.

Chief ex­ec­u­tive Si­mon Fisher said the teams on mis­sions saw about 300 chil­dren over three or four days and treated them re­gard­less of na­tion­al­ity, re­li­gion, pol­i­tics or fi­nan­cial sta­tus.

“(The mis­sions are) pretty chal­leng­ing be­cause you know we can’t help all the chil­dren,” Mr Fisher said.

“Some will come to the clinic who have missed the op­por­tu­nity, missed the boat. There are al­ways many more chil­dren than we can ac­tu­ally as­sist.”

Mr Fisher, how­ever, has faith in the train­ing they pro­vide for lo­cal med­i­cal prac­ti­tion­ers and the part­ner­ships the non-profit or­gan­i­sa­tion forms with lo­cal min­istries of health.

“To an ex­tent it’s a drop in the ocean, but it’s a very pos­i­tive drop,” he said.

Is­rael was still a young coun­try and had ex­pe­ri­enced its own doc­tors trav­el­ling over­seas for train­ing.

“Many did come back to build up the health sys­tem,” he said. “I think that’s pretty much the model of Save a Child’s Heart — save as many chil­dren as we can.”

Dr Mekon­nen agreed the train­ing of lo­cal doc­tors was es­sen­tial for de­vel­op­ing coun­tries. “You can al­ways keep bring­ing kids to Is­rael but in the lon­grun it’s more ef­fec­tive if you can teach the lo­cal doc­tors to do the pro­ce­dures them­selves,” he said.

STU­ART McEVOY

Yayu Mekon­nen with Save a Child’s Heart chief Si­mon Fisher: ‘It’s more ef­fec­tive if you can teach the lo­cal doc­tors.’

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