In this LinkedIn article, our President Jackie Boucher shares her observations about global pediatric heart care gaps, in light of a powerful story of an Olympian who auctioned off her medal to pay for lifesaving heart surgery for an infant. For every 9 out of 10 of children born with heart disease treatment is too expensive or not even available. Jackie reminds us that intentional action is needed to save lives by incorporating care for children with heart disease into national health systems worldwide.
Kind Gesture by Olympian Shines Light on Global Pediatric Heart Care Gaps
A Poland Olympian made headlines in August 2021 when she auctioned off her first and only Olympic medal to help pay for lifesaving heart surgery for an infant. Olympian Maria Andrejczyk worked hard, persevered over injuries and a bone cancer diagnosis, and dedicated herself to winning a medal in javelin throwing at the Tokyo games. She earned her silver medal and earned the right to display it, auction it, give it away or do with it what she wishes.
Her act of auctioning off her prize possession is truly commendable and a true act of kindness. She also has a strong understanding of the mental, physical and financial costs associated with a medical condition. She was fortunate enough to receive treatment.
At the heart of her actions, is a little boy and his family who couldn’t afford the lifesaving surgery needed to save their child who was born with congenital heart disease (CHD). Every parent wants the same thing—they want access to the best care possible so their child can live a long and healthy life. The sad truth is this family is not alone.
Every 5 minutes 10 children are born with a heart defect. For every 9 out of 10 of those children treatment is too expensive or not even available.
CHD is the seventh cause of infant deaths globally, and 85% of the babies who die are in low- and middle-income countries, according to The Global Burden of Congenital Heart Disease. Yet, there is no global approach to ensuring all children have access to appropriate heart care.
Pediatric heart care is a global issue
CHD has become the leading cause of death from a noncommunicable disease in people under the age of 30. Even in the U.S. where we have more access to treatment, there are racial and socioeconomic disparities in infant deaths related to CHD.
In 2015, countries around the world signed the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG3) which have specific targets for reducing childhood mortality and mortality from noncommunicable diseases by 2030. To reach these targets, action is needed to increase access to pediatric cardiac care.
Intentional action is needed to save lives
Children’s HeartLink has experience working with local healthcare systems in underserved parts of the world. Our experience, coupled with health systems strengthening and disease surveillance data, tells us that more than 40 current low- and middle-income countries will have the capacity to incorporate care for children with heart disease into their health systems by 2030. This will only happen through intentional action by the global health community.
We are committed to ensuring that health systems and governments are prepared to identify and care for children with heart disease. Because we believe every child deserves a healthy heart.
Childhood heart disease and the global agenda
More than 12 million people worldwide are living with congenital heart disease. The Invisible Child: Childhood Heart Disease and the Global Health Agenda outlines the steps needed to address childhood heart disease. The four-part series, explores the place of pediatric cardiac care within the global health and development agenda. In it, we stress the need to:
- Increase the capacity to care for children with heart disease by strengthening health systems.
- Build a trained pediatric cardiac workforce to diagnose and treat children with heart disease.
- Collect more and better data about children with heart disease, because as the former Director-General of the World Health Organization Dr. Margaret Chan says, “what gets measured gets done.”
- Include pediatric cardiac care in benefits packages so that poverty is never a side effect of treating pediatric heart disease.
All these actions combined will move us toward a world where Olympians won’t need to sell their medals to help families fund heart surgery or heart care for their children.
Written by Jackie Boucher, President of Children’s HeartLink