, Volume 38, Issue 9, pp 2205-2211
Date: 14 Apr 2014

Partnership for Sustainability in Cardiac Surgery to Address Critical Rheumatic Heart Disease in Sub-Saharan Africa: The Experience from Rwanda

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Rheumatic heart disease (RHD) in the developing world results in critical disability among children, adolescents, and young adults—marginalizing a key population at its peak age of productivity. Few regions in sub-Saharan Africa have independently created an effective strategy to detect and treat streptococcal infection and mitigate its progression to RHD.


We describe a unique collaboration, where the Rwanda Ministry of Health, the Rwanda Heart Foundation, and an expatriate humanitarian cardiac surgery program have together leveraged an innovative partnership as a means to expand Rwanda’s current capacity to address screening and primary prevention, as well as provide life-saving cardiac surgery for patients with critical RHD.

Evidence review

Interviews with key personnel and review of administrative records were conducted to obtain qualitative and quantitative data on the recruitment of clinical personnel, procurement of equipment, and program finances. The number of surgical cases completed and the resultant clinical outcomes are reviewed.


From 2008 to 2013, six annual visits were completed. A total of 128 prosthetic valves have been implanted in 86 complex patients in New York Heart Association (NYHA) class III or IV heart failure, with excellent clinical outcomes (5 % 30-day mortality). Postoperative complications included a cerebrovascular accident (n = 1) and hemorrhage, requiring reoperation (n = 2). All procedures were performed with participation of local personnel.

Conclusions and relevance

This strategy provides a reliable and consistent model of sophisticated specialty care delivery; inclusive of patient-centered cardiac surgery, mentorship, didactics, skill transfer, and investment in a sustainable cardiac program to address critical RHD in sub-Saharan Africa.

All authors contributed equally to the design and concept of this manuscript and each approves its publication in the present form.