One out of every 200 children born in developing countries suffers from a repairable congenital or rheumatic heart defect. In Tanzania, at any given time, more than 7,000 children and adolescents await surgery. This African state is wanting in specialised paediatric cardiac facilities. Left untreated, the children die before their 21st birthday. There is an urgent need to send them abroad for open heart surgery.
In 1979, under the umbrella of the Lions Club of Dar es Salaam and with the timely support of the Tanzanian Government’s Ministry of Health, Dr Rajni Kanabar started the Heart Babies Project. India became the favoured destination for surgery, as it offers world class surgery at a tenth of the cost of that in the West. With altruistic surgeons waiving their fees, hospitals are able to offer more affordable rates. The Indian High Commission in Tanzania generously processes gratis visas. Groups of 20 to 30 children are sent at one time so as to obtain concessional airfares. To date 1,200 youngsters have been successfully operated upon.
The TOS in Dar es Salaam is still in its nascent stages, but is slowly growing in strength. It has chosen to support the Heart Babies Project. Unable to pay for heart surgery itself (US$1,650 per operation + extra for stent/valve) and for airfares (between US$1,300 and 1,800 per child with escort), it is contributing towards the small essentials required by the children during their travel: suitcase, handbag, extra clothes, toiletries, biscuits, etc. Costs for this vary between US$25 and $50 per child.
The TOS group is a dedicated one that believes in giving the human touch to any project. In this regard, when children are ready to travel to India for their surgery, the group works prior to their departure to obtain a list of their personal requirements. Merely handing over money or just purchasing and passing on these essentials is not the philosophy of the group. The members make a point of interacting with the children and their escorts, speaking positively about their future and encouraging them to stay strong. Usually, a send-off ceremony is arranged at the main hospital or even at the airport, where members gather to lend their support in person. The same is done upon their return, so as to share the joy of their successful surgery.
Deepa Kapur, the coordinator of the TOS in Dar es Salaam, knows Dr Kanabar and his team well. She has long participated in his work and has seen the entire programme in operation, on both the Tanzanian and Indian sides. She has every confidence in this splendid project.
Note: If you or your TOS group would like information on how to contribute to the cost of a travel kit for a child, write to Diana, the International Secretary, at email@example.com.
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