For the last five years, Touch Foundation, with the generous support of Medtronic Foundation, has worked to address Rheumatic Heart Disease (RHD) in the Lake Zone of Tanzania. As we come to the end of the program, we celebrate the powerful role that frontline healthcare workers can have in RHD prevention and care. Touch volunteer, based in Mwanza, Tanzania, Madison MacLean writes about one of those healthcare workers, Mercy, who is committed to ensuring excellent prenatal care.
RHD develops from untreated strep throat and ultimately results in permanent heart damage, which can be very dangerous, especially for pregnant women. Because of this danger, screening, early diagnosis, and treatment are critical to saving lives and our program addressed the ways in which these can be integrated into standard care procedures in Tanzania. Now, upon completion of the program, we are taking the time to reflect on the program and celebrate the people who helped define it. One of those people is Mercy, a sonographer at Kambarage Health Center, who participated in Touch Foundation’s training series for healthcare workers on RHD prevention.
Mercy is the only sonographer at Kambarage Health Center (KHC) and feels strongly about providing prenatal care. Her passion for her work stems in part from her own experiences. As part of another Touch Foundation program supported by AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals, Healthy Heart Africa, Mercy was screened and found to be hypertensive early on in her pregnancy. She was able to receive the proper treatment, and she and her unborn child remained safe. She thus knows both firsthand and through her professional work the importance of providing services that will lead to early detection and care for others too.
“It is important to screen women and children for Rheumatic Heart Disease because then we are able to know in the early stages and get treatment earlier.”
There are very few cardiologists who can do these screenings, especially in rural areas. Many of these services are only available at the larger referral hospitals. We supported the training of Mercy and other healthcare workers to screen pregnant women and children during routine prenatal visits at the clinic. She now has the knowledge and equipment to screen and identify issues in pregnant women, increasing early detection and referring those patients before their conditions become severe.
“If more healthcare workers could be trained and upskilled like I have, it will have a big impact. It can improve the services and we can increase care for people living in remote areas and refer them in the first stages of an issue.”
The RHD training has shown first-hand that providing frontline healthcare workers like Mercy with the training and equipment to implement an early screening system can save lives.
“We met a pregnant mama yesterday, she used to come to the clinic because she had high blood pressure. We found out yesterday she has a problem with her heart. We were able to give her a referral to the regional hospital to get treatment. This is a good thing for us!”