Meet the ‘flying hospital’ fighting to save the broken hearts of Tanzania’s poor children
On a monitor above the surgeons’ heads, a red and green ‘0’ indicates Junior’s heart has been stopped. The medics get to work quickly, their fingers moving carefully around the ten or so wires protruding out of the three-year-old’s chest. After a while, the heart jumps back to life.
More than a million babies worldwide are born every year with a congenital heart defect. Of these, one tenth will not live to see their first birthday. While corrective surgery is normally performed within weeks of the birth, in Tanzania and other developing countries, poverty and a lack of cardiac specialists or facilities mean many go untreated.
Junior is being operated on in Muhimbili National Hospital in the Tanzanian port city of Dar es Salaam. It is the only medical centre in the vast, east African country of 50 million that is equipped for open-heart surgery. His mother is sitting in the corridor outside the operating theatre, waiting anxiously to find out if her son has survived the high-risk but life-saving surgery.
He is one of dozens of children being treated by a team of specialists from the UK-based NGO Muntada Aid. The group of 35 surgeons, doctors and nurses fly out to developing countries to carry out surgeries, provide medical equipment and train locals to diagnose and treat children with congenital heart disease as part of the charity’s Little Hearts project.