Congenital Heart Defect Awareness week is observed from the 7th to the 14th of February to promote awareness and education about Congenital Heart Defects in the world.

Sai Prema Foundation Fiji has completed a successful week-long awareness campaign highlighting the impact of Congenital Heart Disease (CHD) and the important role of early diagnosis and treatment in the form of surgical intervention. A Congenital Heart Defect is an abnormality of the heart that a baby is born with. There are over 40 types of Congenital Heart Defects and they could range from simple defects with no symptoms to complex lesions with severe and life-threatening symptoms. The issue could be a hole between the top chambers of the heart or the bottom chambers of the heart, blood vessels that are in the incorrect position.

Symptoms include shortness of breath, fast breathing, fast heart rate, bluish tinge of the lips, nails and fingers, failure to gain weight, sweating during feeding, swelling of the eyes, abdomen, legs. In addition, children with Congenital Heart Disease may have recurrent chest infections and repeated admissions to hospital.

Dr Krupali Tappoo, Director of the upcoming Children’s heart Hospital says “throughout last week we created awareness through our social media campaign with our heart ambassadors with facts and information about the most common birth defect in the world. We continued with our free heart screening at our Sanjeevani Children’s heart screening Centre on Wednesday and Thursday and had a media press conference on Thursday afternoon with our female heart ambassadors”.

Global statistics show that 1% of all children are born with CHD. In Fiji about 200 children are born every year and 2,500 in the South Pacific with Congenital Heart Defect. Surgical intervention is a very successful form of treatment and it gives a child a new gift of life and a normal life span. It is known that twice as many children die from Congenital Heart Defects than from all childhood cancers combined. Congenital Heart Disease is 60 times more prevalent than childhood cancer. About 50% of children with Congenital Heart Defects will require surgical intervention and about 1/3 of children will have a critical lesion requiring surgery in the first year of life. Without surgery these babies will die.

The Sai Prema Foundation Fiji have successfully provided free heart surgery to 73 children in the past few years through its Gift of Life program. This has been made possible by an international team of medical professionals from Australia, United States, India and Oman.

Since opening its doors, the Sanjeevani Children’s heart screening Centre has done free heart screening for over 1,800 children with over 120 children diagnosed with Congenital Heart Disease, which is 5% of all children screened. “The burden of Congenital Heart Disease in developing countries is quite high and our screening Centre is providing this data” says Dr. Krupali.

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic and border closures visiting teams have not been able to come to Fiji for surgery and there are over 50 children currently awaiting surgery.

Dr. Krupali states that “The Sanjeevani Children’s Heart Hospital is nearing completion and currently work is continuing with medical gas installation by Biomedical Engineer Ricky, from New Zealand and installation of equipment by our Biomedical Engineers, Roy and Sam Morris from the United States of America. We hope to be able to inaugurate the hospital in the coming months. This hospital will provide free surgery for children with Congenital Heart Disease in Fiji and the South Pacific.”

Sai Prema Foundation is also working on building local capacity so that in the future there will be a team of doctors, nurses and medical Professionals trained in all aspects of Children’s heart surgery through its partnership with the Sai Sanjeevani hospitals in India who will help provide free training for our local doctors.

“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart” Helen Keller.

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