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Screen newly born babies for heart diseases

BY: Augustina Tawiah
Prof. Nana-Akyaa Yao
Prof. Nana-Akyaa Yao

A Consultant Paediatric and Congenital Cardiologist at the National Cardiothoracic Centre, Korle Bu, Prof. Nana-Akyaa Yao, has advised parents to enquire about screening of the heart  of their newly born babies until the country’s  health system developed a national heart screening programme.


That, according to her, would help diagnose children with heart problems early so that immediate steps could be taken to correct them to save lives.

Prof. Nana-Akyaa Yao, who gave the advice in an interview  in Accra, explained that when heart diseases in children were detected within the first year of their lives, it prevents complications and the delay which could lead to death.

“If the child doesn’t die within the first year of life,  that child is likely to live with the complications.

They do not live a normal healthy life. About 25 per cent of children born with heart disease have critical congenital heart disease. This critical congenital heart disease requires intervention in the first year of life.”

She explained that heart screening for newly born babies was not a sophisticated test that requires special machines, adding that it involved examining the baby and checking the oxygen saturation in its hands and feet, which she said could be done by even a midwife or a physician assistant.

Prof. Yao said some private hospitals in the country screened the hearts of newly born babies before they were discharged from the hospitals, while some parents also walked in to request the screening after the birth of their babies.

Unfortunately, she said at the public hospitals where most children in the country were born, the screening is not done because there is no national programme and manpower is limited.

She said the situation was different in the western world as pregnant women could do an anomaly scan which was able to detect whether children would have heart problems when they were born, and a management system was instituted to correct the problem once they were born.

She called for heart screening of children to be made compulsory just as had been done for vaccination.

Heart problems in children

Describing heart diseases in children in the country as a big problem, Prof. Yao said out of every 100 births, one child would have a heart problem, explaining that heart diseases in children were mainly problems the children were born with.

“If a child is born with a heart problem, it means that the heart problem developed during the pregnancy while the baby was growing inside the womb. Heart diseases in children have nothing to do with anything the mother did during or before the pregnancy or something the father did. It is due to the formation of the heart during pregnancy,” she explained.

Signs

Prof. Yao mentioned that some of the ways through which heart diseases in children presented themselves were excessive sweating, especially when the child was asleep or eating; breathing problems; chest infections; weight gain  and developmental problems such as delayed sitting of the baby.

She advised that immediate medical advice should be sought for any child who had heart problems, adding that, “Heart problem is not like malaria that you can take coartem and you are fine.

You need to see a doctor to help you determine which type of heart disease you have.”