By Samwel Doe Ouma @samweldoe
Novartis, University of Nairobi Enterprises & Services (UNES) Ltd and The Heart Centre have joined forces to improve prompt diagnosis of heart conditions in Kenya through an initiative called Echo for life that aims at training Physicians to accurately diagnose cardiac cases and provide Counties with the highest burden of heart diseases with Echocardiography diagnostic device, Butterfly iQ™ .
According to Racey Muchilwa, Head of Novartis sub-Saharan Africa region, the partnership will not only improve accessibility of Echocardiography but also enhance a cost-effective access of noninvasive cardiovascular imaging diagnosis in Kenya.
“There has never been a better time to collaborate to strengthen healthcare systems, broaden patient access and build physicians capacity as the world combats COVID-19,” Racey Muchilwa said adding that, “Thanks to this partnership, we will be able to significantly shorten diagnosis of heart patients who previously traveled long distances to seek medical help, while making echos more affordable, particularly in rural Kenya, where we have a vast majority of unmet patient needs.”
The over 30 Butterfly iQ™ ultrasound devices donated by Norvatis were handed to UNES and The Heart Centre to equip trained doctors who have no access to essential ultrasound equipment, particularly in rural areas across the country.
According to Dr Ephantus Maree, Ministry of Health, Head of Non communicable Disease unit the enormous gaps in cardiovascular diagnostics makes most patients to present themselves to facilities when their conditions have worsen.
“The partnership is in line with the Universal health Coverage (UHC) policy since it will improve access and affordability of cardiovascular diseases treatment.
He adds that economic burden cost by cardiovascular conditions treatment in Kenya is approximated to be Sh 31 trillion.
Currently, the cost of an echo ranges between Shs 5000-8500, but with the donated ultrasound devices, costs will be significantly reduced to about Shs 1500, hence improving affordability and access for patients.
Speaking during the launch Dr. Fred Bukachi, a cardiologist and Director at the Heart Centre, said that one in every four people in Kenya have got elevated blood pressure according to the Ministry of health Stepswise survey a risk factor for cardiovascular cases but lack of diagnosis and follow up and treatment process is always lacking.
“Diagnosis is critical for treatment outcomes, particularly for cardiovascular conditions and without proper training, late management could be fatal,” Dr Bukachi said adding that “The Butterfly iQ™ ultrasound can diagnose cardiac conditions and at regular intervals, provide information on response to treatment, adherence and other parameters that would improve patient outcomes. With 100 echos done per device per month, we expect a significant change in the individual health of the patient as diagnosis will be received faster, without the need to travel hundreds of kilometers.”
While Seith Abeka, the Acting Managing Director of UNES Limited said that Public-private-partnerships are crucial for innovative thinking and joint action to strengthen our healthcare systems through capacity building.
“Partnerships will mark an incredible milestone that not only equips frontline doctors with cutting-edge diagnosis equipment but also with the necessary expertise to bring quality care, particularly to the underserved communities in Kenya,” Abeka noted.
As part of the partnership, 115 healthcare professionals trained in Cardiac Diagnosis and Echocardiogram across the country since February 2018. Previously, in 2017 and 2018, there were only 20 doctors who could do echo cardiograms. Out of the 115, Novartis has sponsored 70 doctors, while various county governments or self-sponsorship funded the rest.
“With this training, the trained doctors, most of whom are based in primary levels of care, will have access to crucial imagining of each of the chambers of the heart, measure the cardiac wall thickness and determine the heart function in cases of reduced output,” Dr Bukachi added.
The program aims to reach at least 36 000 patient per year.
The Butterfly iQ™ handheld portable ultrasound devices connected to a mobile phone enable imaging of body organs and tissues at the convenience of a patient, moving away from the bulky and expensive standard echocardiogram equipment.
A recent WHO survey also revealed that shutting or slowdown in services for non-communicable diseases (NCDs) is likely to worsen patients’ underlying conditions, leading to more severe cases. Additionally, people with heart disease are, in fact, at a much-increased risk of dying from COVID-19 infection.