On Saturday, June 24th, a screening camp was organised for children with Congenital Heart Defects in Srinagar, Kashmir by Rotary Club Rajouri, Jammu & Kashmir Rotary district 3070, Genesis Foundation and Amrita Institute of Medical Sciences and Research Center, Cochin. A total of 250 children were screened and 97 (39%) were identified to be need of an intervention in the form of a heart surgery or a catheter procedure.

Dr. Krishna Kumar examining a child

The camp was a part of a relentless effort being undertaken to bring hope and healing to people who need it the most. These children who would have otherwise suffered silently, were given a chance at life through the camp. The camp saw children show up from districts such as Budgam, Ganderbal, Sonpore, Shadipora and many more.

Congenital heart defects, or defects in the structure and function of the heart are one of the leading birth defects and one of the main causes of childhood mortality in India. Each year over 250,000 children are born with a heart defect and 25% of these need an intervention within the first year of their life to be able to survive. However, only a small percentage receive the medical care they need.

Lack of access to resources, awareness and financial challenges are the barriers that come in the way of the care of children with heart defects. In most cases, timely diagnosis and treatment can give these children a chance to live a near normal life. However, awareness about the condition remains limited even among the front-line health workers leading to many children being left undiagnosed and hence untreated.

“Congenital Heart disease (CHD) is increasingly recognized as an important reason for infant mortality in many parts of the country that are showing improved human development indices. Southern States, Maharashtra, Punjab, Jammu & Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and the Metros are examples where CHD is emerging as a significant pediatric health problem. Caring for children with heart disease is challenging and expensive because it requires sophisticated equipment and infrastructure together with a cohesive team of highly qualified health professionals that include pediatric heart surgeons, pediatric cardiologists, intensive care experts and specially trained nurses. The most vulnerable group, newborns and infants, require the maximum resources and expertise. It is not therefore, surprising that economic barriers come in the way of most Indian children receiving timely care for their heart conditions. Screening camps enable detection and help improve awareness among caregivers, health authorities and in the general population,” said Dr Krishna Kumar, Head of the Department of Pediatric Cardiology at the Amrita Institute of Medical Sciences and Research Center, Cochin.

By conducting screening camps, the team of medical experts identified life threatening defects that might have gone unnoticed. These diagnoses pave the way for appropriate medical interventions, including surgeries to ensure that children have a fighting chance for a brighter tomorrow.

Genesis Foundation, an NGO that supports the medical treatment of underprivileged children born with a CHD, firmly believes that early detection plays a pivotal role in improving the prognosis and quality of life for such children. The large number of children diagnosed with a heart defect at the camp points to the glaring gap in access to diagnostic facilities and treatment for medical conditions like CHD that continue to exist in India even today.

“Screening camps have been an important vertical of our work. Camps enable us to take diagnostic facilities and doctors to the doorstep of children who would otherwise be left undiagnosed. This is an important step in our effort to ensure that children across the country do not die or face lifelong challenges only because of a lack of awareness and resources,” said Mrs. Simran Sagar Singh, Operations Director, Genesis Foundation.

The children diagnosed with a Congenital Heart Defect at the camp will be treated at the AMRITA Institute of Medical Sciences and Research Centre, Cochin. “By conducting many such camps across the country, we hope to build awareness and expand our reach at the grassroot level where many children do not receive the required diagnosis and treatment. We want to reach a point where every child with a CHD gets a chance at life irrespective of the socioeconomic status,” she added.

Many regions in India do not have access to centres that can help diagnose conditions like a congenital heart defect or provide the appropriate treatment. There is clear need to make greater effort to make quality healthcare available to all children, regardless of their socioeconomic background. A lot more needs to be done to identify, treat and rehabilitate children fostering a society where no child’s potential is hindered by preventable health conditions.

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