Zacharia Masatu, a 12-year-old from Tanzania’s Sengerema district, is the second youngest of nine children born to two farmers. Zacharia is in 6th grade at the Bukirigulu Primary School and had never seen a doctor before a Touch-supported heart screening at his school.
At the age of four, Zacharia’s parents started to notice that their son was not a healthy young boy. Zacharia had difficulty breathing and always seemed to have a cough. His parents did not think it was a serious disease, though, and took him for local herbal treatment. Although this did not seem to be working, Zacharia’s parents were not able to take him to see a doctor because hospital services were not financially or physically within their reach.
As part of our efforts to decrease cardiovascular disease, our partners at Bugando Medical Centre, with support from Touch and Medtronic Foundation, have screened over 3,000 school children in the Sengerema and Buchosa districts. The pediatric cardiologist at Bugando, Dr. Glory, performed an echocardiogram on Zacharia and immediately realized the 12-year-old was in grave danger. His eldest sister came to his school at once and the two traveled five hours to Bugando in Mwanza, a ferry and several hours away from Zacharia’s home in Sengerema, to seek life-saving treatment. Zacharia was diagnosed with a serious heart condition called Ebstein Anomaly and had surgery the following day. After just over 2 weeks, he was discharged, feeling better than ever before.
Unfortunately, the surgical team was unable to perform the corrective surgery Zacharia needed for complete valve repair because of Tanzania’s limited capacity for cardiovascular surgery. Instead, they drained his heart of fluid and administered medication that will allow him to better manage his condition going forward. As a result, Zacharia will never lead a completely normal life. He will not be able to play sports or become a farmer like his parents, and he will have to take medication and receive monthly checkups to manage his heart disease.
School heart screening projects targeting specific diseases (in this case, rheumatic heart disease) are often one-off endeavors, but Touch’s systems thinking and decades of experience in the region ensure that bedside ultrasound diagnostic capacity becomes embedded in district level health systems. Without bedside ultrasound diagnostic capacity reaching a school in rural Tanzania, Zacharia’s life threatening heart condition would not have been diagnosed, and Zacharia would not have had the chance to reach adulthood. Zacharia’s story is just one example of the ripple effect of impact that endures long beyond the life of Touch’s support for health system improvements.