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`Awareness level of heart disease poor'

By Our Staff Reporter

CHENNAI, FEB. 13. The 14th of February is associated with two kinds of heart ailments. One is of the Valentine's Day strain that kills softly; the other is of the childhood (or congenital) heart disease variety that actually kills.

Recognised globally by heart specialists as the Congenital Heart Disease Awareness Day, it is an annual reminder of the fact that every year thousands of children born with heart diseases die, not because their conditions are terminal but because of poor awareness. It is so low that the usual hype associated with special dates for other diseases is given the go-by.

Every year over one lakh children are born in the country with heart diseases or defects, but only about 15 paediatric cardiologists, 10 dedicated paediatric cardiac surgeons and less than 10 institutions are available to deal with the problem.

Even if these children do reach a specialist or surgeon, many of their families do not have the funds to keep them alive. A surgery costs about Rs. 1.5 lakhs or more. "I have seen children die before the money can be arranged. We apply for funds from the Chief Minister's or Prime Minister's Relief Funds but while we are waiting for the money to arrive, we sometimes get calls informing us that the child has died," says R. Prem Sekar, interventional paediatric cardiologist.

As a result, only 5,000 surgeries are performed annually, while the other children have to wait for a chance to survive.

Congenital heart disease is a condition in which a child is born with a simple hole in its heart, a simple narrowing of one of the heart valves or a complex heart problem with multiple defects that results in a `blue baby.'

Of over one lakh children born with heart disease every year in the country, 65 per cent die before they are one year old. Only 15 per cent survive beyond five years.

In most cases, even paediatricians are unaware of the magnitude of the disease and do not diagnose the condition accurately. Symptoms that can indicate chances of congenital heart disease are heart murmurs, breathlessness, blueness or dizziness and fainting or palpitation.

Paediatric cardiologists say they are planning to set up a trust that can immediately pay for a child's surgery. Applicants to the Chief Minister's or Prime Minster's Relief Funds usually have to wait for at least three months before they get the money (about Rs. 60,000). However, these few months could prove fatal some children.

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