“Sharing know-how forms part of a doctor’s job”
In Senegal, one thousand children a year are born with a heart defect. The complexity of carrying out surgery locally is a challenge. Terre des hommes (Tdh) organises missions with the CHUV (University Hospital of the canton Vaud) to save these children’s lives. The long-term goal is to make such surgery possible through practical training of the local staff. Nicole Sekarski, cardiologist from the CHUV and her colleague in Senegal, Arame Diagne Diallo from the Paediatric Cardiac Centre Cuomo, have been taking part in this project for the past ten years.
Can you tell us about the collaboration between the Senegalese medical staff and the CHUV during a surgical mission?
N. Sekarski: Looking after our patients and sharing know-how forms part of a doctor’s job. I explain to my Senegalese colleagues how to reach a more accurate diagnosis when they are making ultrasound imaging of the heart. The objective is to get the local teams to sharpen their knowledge of cardiology for treatment and aftercare, becoming progressively autonomous to take care of the children suffering from congenital heart disease in Senegal.
What do you both learn through these missions?
A. Diagne Diallo: This exchange made it possible for me to improve my skills in paediatrics, because in Senegal, cardiology was not performed on children before. Nicole brings us the expertise and helps us to improve diagnosis, as well as the full care of the patients. We have become practically independent.
N. Sekarski: In Switzerland, 90% of the children are treated between 0 and 1 year of age. These missions enable us to see the natural progression of the pathologies, as we look after older children in Senegal. We also learn to cope without all the technology we have at home.
What is being achieved with Tdh?
A. Diagne Diallo: Thanks to training the staff, the skills of the whole team have improved. Now we know how to treat some of the most complex cases, such as the tetralogy of Fallot.
N. Sekarski: Tdh has carried out an enormous and well-thought-out task. For complex cardiology, the children still have to be brought to Switzerland. However, the organisation very soon realised that surgery should also be done locally, including training the local medical staff and developing heart operations in that country. My hope is for the teams here to become independent.
What motivates you day by day?
A. Diagne Diallo: Treating severe heart diseases. In the old days, life was all too short if you were born with heart malformation. Nowadays we can save more and more children!
N. Sekarski: What prompts us to be committed are our patients. Every single child who goes back home smiling, represents a success.
Diagnosis, a key step
Echograms are used to diagnose children suffering from heart disease. This is an essential step on which the success of the operation depends. The surgical team could be confronted with unexpected situations in the operating theatre if the child’s diagnosis is not correct.