Ethiopia and Rwanda Mission

March 2007

On March 12, 2007 a Save a Child’s Heart (SACH) medical team traveled to Ethiopia and Rwanda for a 5 day mission. The goal of the medical mission, which was the tenth of its kind to Ethiopia, was to screen children suffering from heart disease and to initiate a new program Rwanda. To date, more than 300 Ethiopian children have been operated on by SACH medical teams in Israel and Ethiopia. Dr. Akiva Tamir, Head of the Pediatric Cardiology Department at Wolfson Medical Center led the medical team. Dr Tamir was joined by Nava Gershon, Head Nurse of the Pediatric Surgical Ward at Wolfson Medical Center and Simon Fisher, Executive Director of SACH.

In order to further expose the general public to the work of Save A Child’s Heart, which treats children with heart problems from all across Africa and other developing countries, the not-for profit organization decided to recruit the popular Israeli musician, Idan Raichel. Raichel has become a Good Will Ambassador, helping to promote SACH’s humanitarian and capacity building programs in Israel and around the world.

General Electric supported the mission through a generous loan of a Vivid I echo machine which enabled the medical team to screen 78 children with serious heart condition who are eligible to receive life saving surgery through Save A Child’s Heart in Israel.

On March 12 – 13, 2007, a cardiology clinic was held at the Children’s Heart Fund of Ethiopia (CHFE) near the Zewditu Hospital. Examinations were conducted by Dr. Tamir and Dr. Esegenet Gedlu, an Ethiopian pediatric cardiologist trained by Dr. Tamir in Israel at the Wolfson Medical Center. Dr.Gedlu is one of two pediatric cardiologists in the whole of Ethiopia and the only pediatric cardiologist at the Black Lion Hospital in Addis Ababa. Over the course of 2 days, Dr. Tamir and Dr. Gedlu worked together to screen 35 children, who are potentially eligible for surgery in Israel.

In addition, follow up examinations were made for 30 post operative patients (children and youth ages 10 – 26) who underwent surgery in the past at Wolfson Medical Center, over the last 11 years. The follow up was a particularly emotional experience as it brought together children from the program together with their families who shared stories of their lives today. Among the children operated were a medical student and a mechanical engineering student as well as an accountant and a health instructor working in the country in the field hygiene and prevention. Dozens of others have also reached their twenties, which would not have been the case had they not had the opportunity to receive proper medical treatment. Idan Raichel used his talents throughout the mission by entertaining and bringing music to the many children who were waiting in line for their chance to see the doctors.

The medical team also met with the Israeli Ambassador to Ethiopia, Mr. Yaacov Amitai, to share the mission’s successes and to work with the Israeli Embassy on exposing the cooperation between SACH and its Ethiopian partners at a local press conference.

CHFE are at the final stages of construction of a new cardiac center and SACH looks forward to expanding the partnership during the next medical mission, where the team will be able to teach and operate at the new center.

On March 14, 2007, the SACH team traveled onwards to Kigali, Rwanda for a 48-hour visit. This was SACH’s first mission to Rwanda. In 2006, Dr. Joseph Mucumbitsi, Head of Pediatric Cardiology at King Faisal Hospital in Kigali, contacted Save A Child’s Heart to request assistance from the organization. Dr. Mucumbitsi is a pediatric cardiologist who gained his expertise in Brussels where he lived for 18 years, yet decided to return to Rwanda 2 years ago, in order to help rehabilitate and develop the Rwandan medical infrastructure.

Upon SACH’s arrival in Kigali, an orientation meeting was held at the King Faisal Hospital, where the team was introduced to the medical staff of the hospital who shared some of the hospital’s success to date, their current capacity and their future aspirations in the area of pediatric cardiac care. The team also visited the hospital complex, including the children’s intensive care unit and operating theatre in order to meet with the heads of each department and get a better sense of the available facilities and equipment.

On March 15, 2007 Dr. Tamir and Dr. Mucumbitsi conducted a joint screening clinic for 13 Rwandan children who suffer from heart disease. A press conference was later held with Dr. Tamir, Dr. Mucumbitsi and Simon Fisher, Executive Director of SACH in order to raise awareness of the new partnership in the local media. Dr. Tamir also gave a lecture for the staff of King Faisal Hospital on pediatric cardiology and shared some of SACH’s most moving cases and stories from the last 11 years.

On March 16, the SACH team was invited to the Genocide Museum in Kigali to learn about the 1994 atrocities that took place, where more than 700,000 people were massacred…while the world remained silent. Later, the team met with Minister of Health, Dr. Jean Damascene Ntawukuliryayo, who conveyed his gratitude for the organization’s visit to Rwanda and pledged his support for the creation of a strong partnership between Israel and Rwanda. Save A Child’s Heart expressed its confidence in what looks to be a strong new partnership and as a first step, has invited 5 Rwandan children to Israel for surgery together with Dr. Mucumbitsi in the coming months.

The SACH medical team returned to Israel in the early hours of March 17th. During their stopover in Addis Ababa, the team was joined by 3 children from Ethiopia who traveled with the team to Israel to undergo open heart surgery. Estub, a 5 year old girl, is expected to undergo surgery in the coming days, while Mekdalwit, a 1 year old girl and Adeday, a 2 year old boy, arrived together with their mothers, will be operated on in the coming weeks.

The SACH medical mission has received widespread media attention. The medical team was joined in Addis Ababa by a filming crew and photographer from Reuters who are expected to broadcast and publish an item in the coming week. In addition, the whole mission to both Ethiopia and Rwanda was filmed by Mr. Yoram Benita and his footage has already been featured on a number of Israeli TV channels. A 15-minute documentary will also be broadcasted next Friday on channel 10 of the Israeli TV.

Since the team’s return, top Israeli media outlets have jumped at the opportunity to hear more about the mission and several television and radio interviews have been conducted with each of the team members. Television shows including; ‘The Morning Show’ on Channel 10, ‘Erev Chadash’ evening news on Channel 1 as well as the entertainment show ‘YES at 10’ interviewed SACH members and featured footage from Ethiopia and Rwanda. Reshet Bet radio, conducted a live interview with the team while they were in Rwanda and Galey Zahal radio followed up with members upon their return. A full two-page ‘Personal Diary’ written by Idan Raichel was published in Yediot Achronot, one of Israel’s leading newspapers and Raichel has already begun to promote the work of SACH at his latest concert, held last week at Tel Aviv University. The media and the general public continue to express interest in the Ethiopian children who returned to Israel with the team and are following their journey together with the ongoing work of Save A Child’s Heart.