You could describe Team Heart’s founding as a “perfect storm” of tragedy and restoration and North American volunteers answering a call for help from the Rwandan government and severely understaffed medical community.
From Team Heart’s Founding to Where We Are Today
Following Rwanda’s 1994 genocide, its health care infrastructure was in shambles. Few physicians and nurses had survived the war, so providing even basic medical care was difficult. Today, in rural Rwanda, one doctor serves between 25,000 to 60,000 people. (source) Through resilience and planning the number of health care professionals has grown, but still just over 750 physicians and 6,000 nurses care for the more than 12 million residents. These experts are determined to address the changing healthcare landscape as Rwanda rebuilds.
Hospitals and medical clinics destroyed during the war had to rebuild with minimal human and fiscal resources. In 2007 Rwanda’s Ministry of Health had begun to catch up with the challenges of infectious disease and put out a call for assistance to address the growing problem of non-communicable diseases. Rheumatic heart disease became part of Rwanda’s agenda.
Team Heart was in the right place at the right time, eager and ready to help
This trip grew into a commitment to developing a sustainable program to increase prevention, education, and early intervention. The team would also build a foundation for offering life-saving care to Rwanda’s RHD patients. The co-founders have continued to seek ways to provide more care with help from a team of dedicated volunteers—those who are involved in raising donations at home, offering on-the-ground support in Africa, and are committed to keep the program robust and growing.
Who’s On The Team? Committed Caregivers.
The Committed Caregiver could be a trained health care provider like a nurse or physician. It could also be a volunteer or donor. It could be anyone, anywhere, who sees a problem and makes the time to see it through to a necessary resolution. This is a person or group who cares and will go to great lengths to move things forward.
Under the guidance of Chip and Ceeya Bolman, Team Heart has added numerous members to do the hard work of volunteering, especially since virtually all of them also happen to be working professionals. In fact, there are so many volunteers today that we need multiple governing and coordinating groups to move us closer to our ultimate goal.
While most developed countries have all but eliminated rheumatic fever through penicillin and related antibiotics, no sub-Saharan African country has accomplished this goal. A recent survey found only a few facilities able to perform cardiac surgery safely in Africa. Moreover, almost all the sufficiently staffed and equipped facilities are in the southern and northernmost parts of the vast continent.
Compare this with the more than 4,000 such facilities in North America and Europe. With 16-20 million people affected by rheumatic heart disease globally, sub-Saharan Africa has almost half of the estimated 2.4 million school-aged children newly affected by the disease.
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Can You Help?
Team Heart’s primary goal is to position Rwanda as a leader in eradicating streptococcal infections and RHD for the generations to come. However, despite the determination, dedication, and enthusiasm of local caregivers, a lack of human and financial resources at the national level has kept the realization of this intervention at bay.
We are indebted to our faithful volunteers and partners, corporate and private, for the support they have given and continue to provide. But the funding deficit remains a real obstacle to our progress. We’re not there yet!
Who among us in the world’s wealthier nations stresses over their children or siblings dying from heart disease as teens or young adults? Sadly, the answer is “virtually no one.” So, we must ask, “What can you offer children you may never meet to help them achieve healthy adulthood? in a country still lacking the medical services and facilities we take for granted every day?” Please join us in the mission.
Team Heart aims to assist Rwanda in becoming a self-sustaining cardiac care regional center while also educating the population, rural and urban, on the causes and treatment of rheumatic heart disease.