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Analysis: With 7000 patients on waiting list Ethiopia’s Cardiac Center fights to stay open

Cardiac Center – Ethiopia (Credit: Fikir A)

Etenesh Abera

Addis Abeba November 20/2019 – ‘’Before the surgery I couldn’t play with my friends, I couldn’t run and I my heart would feel tired. Now I can run and play with my friends. I am very happy ‘’ Afomiya, 5, says. Tigest Bezawork, Afomiya’s mother, told Addis Standard she worries a lot about the center’s problems right now. ‘’I knew my daughter had a cardiac problem from age one. She had the surgery after waiting three long years last year. I am very grateful for the free service we got from the center. The change in my daughter is incredible. Before the surgery she didn’t play like she wanted to since she would get tired quickly, her appetite was very low and her physical growth was also limited; she was very thin.”  Tigest says she was distressed to hear about the center’s financial crisis. “I beg all Ethiopian citizens and the Ethiopian government to help this very important health center.” she says. 

Established in 1992 inside Zewditu Memorial Hospital the Cardiac Center – Ethiopia is now located inside Tikur Anbessa Specialized Hospital (TASH) here in Addis Abeba. It has a new building initiated by Dr. Belay Abegaz started functioning in 2009.

Takele Yinabete who comes from Bahir Dar with his three year old son told Addis Standard that he was waiting for his son’s turn ever since he was referred here at the center from Bahir Dar in the infant age of his son . “I am here waiting for our turn on a follow up. I don’t know the exact time when the surgery will be done, but we will wait for that exact date. I heard that the cardiac center is going to stop functioning soon from lack of budget though. Children are the future hope of our country and I urge everybody to help the center. From my experience, children don’t make their pain known. Everybody should help the center according to their capacity; even contributing one birr with their mobile. “

Hiruy Ali Endries is the Administration and Finance head of the Cardiac Center. He puts the center’s financial woes as stemming from the ever increasing price of medical inputs and the high turnover of skilled man power, who, Hiruy says, are being paid half of the market salary. 

Hiruy Ali Endries said there are more than 7000 people on the center’s waiting list.

“Before this center was established here, we had to send our patients abroad” says Hiruy recalling more than 2600 patients were sent abroad for treatment. He characterizes this as unsustainable, but admits the center is not functioning up to its capacity. Of the 1500 surgeries the center is equipped to handle in a year, only 500 or so are being performed despite a modern building, up to date machines and a full team. “It’s heartbreaking to hear a patient has passed away, when we call them it’s their turn to get surgery,” says Hiruy adding, “there are more than 7000 people on our waiting list.”

Asked about the center’s position on the sustainability of its income Hiruy said there was a campaign called “One birr for one citizen”. He credits that campaign for helping raise a substantial amount of money for the center, and a contribution from the Ethio-Saudi billionaire, Sheikh Mohammed Hussein Ali Al Amoudi’s, to the tune of 100,000,000 ETB (One hundred million birr) among major donations they got. But he admits they lacked organization and capacity to raise funds properly. But he is hopeful the campaign can take off a second time. “The campaign is still in people’s hearts,” says Hiruy adding they have to do more to public relations work. 

According to him, the long term plans of this project is now focused on building the center, fully equipping it with modern medical equipment, producing enough manpower and make it sustainable. The center has achieved the first three objectives, but need to make it sustainable in order to provide its services uninterrupted. Previous works done by the former Ministers of Health, Dr. Tedros Adhanom and Dr. Kesateberhan Admasu and the current Minister Dr. Amir Aman in achieving the first three objectives of the project. 

The center was given land by the Addis Abeba city administration on which it has constructed two  three-storey buildings that it rents. Another building has been halted on the finishing stages of the construction due to budget constraints.  The center hopes the rent from these properties will cover 50% of their total expenditure. 

Hiruy says another way to make the center sustainable is to open such centers in regional cities to reduce the burden on this one center while also making the treatment more accessible. The center is also working with Universities to produce human power, adds Hiruy. 

But the center, after agreeing with Ethio telecom, has launched the old campaign “One birr for one citizen” anew where citizens can donate anything from 1 birr to 100 birr using text messaging. They have also started another campaign called “Lelebe” (for my heart), which allows the center to work as an agent when customers charge their mobile plans. 

Hiruy also calls on importers of Medical inputs to either provide the center with free material or sell their products at a discounted price to the center. Professionals working on public relations, website development and marketing are also called on to help the center bolster its public relations campaign. People working on social media are also called upon to help update the website and bring traffic to it. Hiruy also says they need contractors, finishing material providers and importers to work together and help the center finish the building which is expected to help in providing sustainable income. Hiruy says they are thankful to the artists working on their TV promotions and the television channels broadcasting them for free.

To that end, Meseret Mebrate, a prominent actress has become the Cardiac Center’s Goodwill Ambassador and was recently featured in video to raise awareness about the center. AS

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