Prof. Mark Tettey, acting Director of the National Cardiothoracic Centre of the  Korle Bu Teaching Hospital, explaining how the heart works during an interview
Prof. Mark Tettey, acting Director of the National Cardiothoracic Centre of the Korle Bu Teaching Hospital, explaining how the heart works during an interview

Heart Institute in the offing to help manage patients — Professor Mark Mawutor Tettey

The acting Director of the National Cardiothoracic Centre, Professor Mark Mawutor Tettey, has announced plans by the centre to establish a National Heart Institute that would, among others, be able to cater for the numerous cases that they see.


The Daily Graphic had an interview with him to throw more light on the establishment of this institute and also talk about heart problems in the country. Daily Graphic’s Augustina Tawiah conducted the interview which is captured below:

Augustina Tawiah (AT): How will the establishment of the National Heart Institute help Ghanaians?

Professor Mark Mawutor Tettey (Prof. MMT): Only a few things can be done for patients at the cardio centre now. Patients have to go out to do many other things to enable us to diagnose them. Even for some of the treatments, patients may have to go out to do that. We have outgrown the space here. There are a lot of things we could have done at the cardio centre but because of space, we are unable to expand to do those things. 

When we talk of a National Heart Institute, we are bringing together so many other things so that it will be a one-stop shop. The institute is supposed to help us manage our patients better, and bring in all the latest equipment that is needed to facilitate our management of patients. We are going to have even centres in that institute - we will have a Paediatric Cardiology Centre; Adult Cardiology Centre; Thoracic Unit; Investigations/radiology; Pharmacy and Research, which is going to be another core part of the institute. 

Research is important because we have to know what we are doing, how we are managing our patients, and how effective our management is and make sure we give the best of whatever we are doing to our patients. So, the institute is going to help us actually achieve the best for Ghana in terms of the management of cardiovascular diseases. It is going to be the hub of cardiovascular care in the country.

AT: How do you hope to achieve this?

Prof. MMT: As part of this bigger vision of establishing the Heart Institute, we want to scale up the Heart foundations that we have in the country. We know there are a couple of heart foundations that are supposed to support patients who need specialist heart surgery but we realise that what we have now is not enough so a lot of patients are on the waiting list and we have other more expensive heart procedures that patients need to go through. For us to be able to efficiently operationalise this heart institute, we need to support with funding, which should come from us, the public. If we are able to convince Ghanaians to contribute to this fund adequately, we can treat patients in that institute free of charge and that is our aim.

AT: How can Ghanaians contribute towards the establishment of the institute?

Prof. MMT: We intend to talk to companies and professional groups or associations and sell this idea to them. If we can get a minimum of about two million Ghanaians contributing GH¢5 a month and in addition to other fundraising activities we will be organising, heart-related treatment can be free in this country. The committee will meet and come up with avenues so that any individual who is not part of these groupings can contribute.

AT: Are Ghanaians knowledgeable about their hearts?

Prof. MMT: It is difficult to tell whether Ghanaians are really knowledgeable about their hearts. But what we have set ourselves to do is to make sure that every Ghanaian knows about how to take care of the heart.

Prof. Mark Tettey, acting Director of the National Cardiothoracic Centre of the  Korle Bu Teaching Hospital, explaining some functions of the heart to Augustina Tawiah, a Staff Writer with the Daily Graphic, during an interview. Pictures: EDNA SALVO-KOTEY


AT: What is the trend of heart cases in the country?

Prof. MMT: The most common heart problem in the country is hypertension. It is the number one killer now. It’s a cardiovascular problem which affects the vessels. On the surface of the heart, you see vessels; with hypertension, these vessels become narrowed. When the vessels are narrowed, it doesn’t have enough blood flowing through it to supply the heart that is always working and that is when you get heart attack. Hypertension can also cause kidney failure. The high kidney disease rate that we have now, most of it is due to uncontrolled hypertension. 

AT: What are the other common heart problems that we have?

Prof. MMT: We have coronary artery disease, which is another cause of heart failure; myocarditis, which is the inflammation of the heart muscle itself. We also have postpartum cardio myopathies, which occur in some women after giving birth due to hormonal problems, some viral infections or some other things, which we may not be able to explain. 
Common colds can also result in heart problems. When you have a common cold and you have some types of bacteria, the bacteria induce some inflammatory processes, which settle on the lining of the inside of the heart. So for somebody who had a common cold after 10 or 15 years, he will now come with a heart problem because the valves that are in the heart have been destroyed. This can be a one-off cold or repeated cold. But now because of the use of antibiotics, we are seeing less of that but it is still prevalent.  

AT: Can all heart problems be solved?

Prof. MMT: You can solve some of the heart problems but not all of them. If the problem is caused by hypertension, you can’t solve it. Not even surgery. Surgery will solve the problem at the time but the original state of the heart, you can’t go back to it. Once it’s hypertension that has caused the heart failure, it is usually permanent. You can only support and reduce the progression of the problem.  

AT: How expensive is it to solve heart problems?

Prof. MMT: It is expensive. It's where we are very much concerned because a lot of people are unable to go through the investigations and the treatment that they need when they have heart disease. For instance, if you have a heart attack the minimum you need is GH¢40,000. We call something heart block, which occurs when the heartbeat of a person is lower than what it should be. To correct this, we need devices to be able to stimulate the heart to beat normally. For somebody to have that device inserted, you need not less than $3,000 and it lasts for just eight years or 10 years and you have to replace it. 
Even the refurbished one is GH¢15,000 because of the things you have to use to be able to implant the device. So if we have a system that can take care of all these people without them having to go to look for money and beg for money, it will help. A lot of people are in this condition and they don’t have help. 


AT: How can we protect our hearts?

Prof. MMT: One can take care of their heart by making sure that they check for hypertension because when it starts, one will not know. So from 25 years and above it's good for you to check your pressure at least twice a year so that if you have hypertension, it is diagnosed as early as possible and you can start treatment and prevent the consequences of hypertension. For your heart to be healthy, there are some lifestyles that you need to adopt - make sure you don’t lead a sedentary lifestyle, and you exercise enough because that helps the heart to be strong. Exercise also helps your vessels. You should eat healthy food. Avoid animal fat as much as possible because that will increase or feed cholesterol into your body. Eat more vegetables and reduce your carbohydrate intake because these are the ones that will cause weight gain.

AT: Which age groups are worst affected by heart diseases?


Prof MMT: It used to be around 50 but now we are seeing even earlier ages having heart problems due to hypertension and sometimes due to cholesterol problems. Now, people in their late 30s are having heart attacks and hypertension.

AT: Any advice on the theme for World Heart Day?

Prof. MMT: The advice is to know your heart, understand your heart and just know how to take care of your heart. We are saying the most common heart disease that we have now is hypertension so once in a while check your blood pressure; and if you are hypertensive, make sure you visit your doctor and whatever treatment the doctor gives you, do not forget to take them. Hypertension treatment is for life and don’t go searching for herbal medication to help cure hypertension, you are rather going to kill yourself when you do that.

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