A Call to Action: Pediatric Cardiac Care and the Global Health Agenda

This post was authored by Kathy Jenkins, MD, MPH, FACC, immediate past chair of the ACC’s Adult Congenital and Pediatric Cardiology Section; professor of pediatrics, Harvard Medical School; senior vice president and chief safety and quality officer, Boston Children’s Hospital; and Children’s HeartLink International Advisory Board Member.

The time is right to improve access to treatment of congenital heart disease (CHD) for children in underserved parts of the world. In May, the World Health Assembly adopted a resolution on surgical care and anesthesia as a component of universal health coverage. Surgery for birth defects was included in this resolution. (For more on this topic, read the blog World Health Assembly: A Time For Renewed Commitment to Reducing NCDs.)

The incidence of congenital heart defects around the world is constant, one in 120 newborns – or one million children worldwide each year – are born with a CHD. Yet 90 percent of children with cardiovascular disease lack access to the care they need.

There is more to be done to assure that CHD is a part of the global health agenda. Children’s HeartLink, an international development organization based in Minneapolis, recently released the report, A Case for The Invisible Child: Childhood Heart Disease and the Global Health Agenda. The report states: “Children with heart disease need to be counted, but not just in morbidity and mortality statistics.” This call to action makes the case for making treatment for children with cardiovascular disease a priority to “give these children the chance for a joyful childhood and the opportunity to lead productive adult lives.”

For the ACC at large, and especially for those of us in pediatric cardiology, it is time to embrace the new global health agenda and use our advantages of expertise and influence to assist our peers in low- and middle-income countries that have the desire and the capacity to meet the surgical needs of children with cardiovascular disease. We have much to share and can help other programs develop multidisciplinary care teams around the world, ultimately sharing with them the success we have achieved here in the U.S.

Children’s HeartLink pairs dedicated teams of medical volunteers from some of the finest institutions in the world with pediatric cardiac programs in underserved regions. After these local leaders advance their skills and programs, they join the ranks of medical volunteers, training and mentoring more specialists throughout the region. The beauty of this approach is both its reach and its lasting impact.

I invite all members of the ACC to become involved in this timely and important cause of making CHD diagnosis and high-quality treatment a reality for children around the world.

To that end, I will be leading a webinar hosted by the ACC and Children’s HeartLink on The Invisible Child on Wednesday, Oct. 7, from 9:30 – 10:30 a.m. ET. Please RSVP for the webinar here. For more information and to further help Children’s HeartLink, email faith@childrensheartlink.org.

Visit ACC’s Adult Congenital and Pediatric Cardiology Section here, and the ACC.org Congenital Heart Disease and Pediatric Cardiology Clinical Topic collection here.

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