Heart disease at ‘alarming’ percentage among population

With Guyana is seeing an “alarming” percentage of heart disease, especially among young people, four local doctors are hoping to use the knowledge they have gained from a just-concluded echocardiography programme to both help patients and raise awareness among the wider population about heart ailments.

The doctors, Angelina Dhani, Arnelle Sparman, Thashana Teekah and Sarah Lalman, who were chosen from hospitals across the country, yesterday graduated from an eight week programme carried out by the Libin Cardiovascular Institute of Alberta, Canada and the Ministry of Health, which instructed them in identifying and analysing heart conditions using echocardiograms.

“…The heart disease I see here is heart disease I don’t see at home because its been caught earlier… one of the things that really needs to be done and we are looking at and trying to develop is trying to look at more early recognition of problems …our goal now is to shift to early identification,” said Head of the Echocardiography Education Programme, Dr Debra Isaac, of the University of Calgary, Canada.

Professor Debra Issac (extreme left) and Professor J. Wayne Warnica (extreme right) with the graduates of the Echocardiography Education Progamme. (Photo by Arian Browne)
Professor Debra Issac (extreme left) and Professor J. Wayne Warnica (extreme right) with the graduates of the Echocardiography Education Progamme. (Photo by Arian Browne)

Echocardiographic studies identify the structures of the heart, and the function of the pumping chambers and valves of the heart.  Identification of cardiac abnormalities by echocardiography results in improved diagnosis, and improved diagnosis leads to better ability of the doctor to treat the patient.

Dr Isaac explained that the programme, “Competence in Cardiac Ultrasound Performance and Interpretation,” was designed after a short visit here where she diagnosed a staggering amount of heart disease among the Guyanese populace. “We see it coming earlier and earlier. We see people in their early 30s getting diseases you thought was only people in their 60s and 70s… we are seeing also a lot in children here and it is alarming,” she said.

Further, Dr Isaac pointed out that in most cases it isn’t until the patient was very sick and the heart ailment in an advanced stage that they see them. As a result, she wants emphasis placed on the importance of healthy living and early diagnosis.

Asked what she felt was the cause of the high percentage of the disease here, the doctor opined that it had a lot to do with lifestyles although genes may also be a factor.

In her address to the graduates, Dr Isaac charged them to take their newfound knowledge and educate their patients on the importance of getting tested early for heart disease. She pointed out that the graduates were given lots of practice in giving heart sonograms as “the amount of cases we diagnose in a week here we don’t in months.”

Noting that resources, especially human, were also a problem, she said that administrators of the programme were formulating a plan to use the little that is available more effectively.  “We recognise that resources are very limited in Guyana, so we are working with our partners in the public health system to institute some changes to utilise the resources more effectively,” she added.

On behalf of the Ministry of Health and the Georgetown Public Hospital, Dr. Mahendra Carpen, who is attached to the Carribean Heart Institute, thanked the Canadians for the work they are doing locally and promised full support.

The graduation was the second of its kind and is a part of the Ministry of Health’s programme to bring awareness and service in their fight to decrease the percentage of non-communicable diseases in Guyana.  In a statement, the Georgetown Hospital said that programme was developed by Canadian cardiac specialists at Libin in conjunction with its Institute of Health Science Education, and the Ministry of Health in Guyana.

The programme is taught by Cardiologists, echocardiography specialists and volunteer technologist educators from Calgary, Canada.
The hospital also stated that a formal echocardiography lab was set up last year and the past students—

Dr. A. Harvey and Dr. K. Ramdass—have been providing this important cardiac diagnostic test to the public health system in Georgetown, while past student Dr. R. Ramsackal provides this service at the New Amsterdam Hospital.

Further, the hospital pointed out that Dr Isaac has committed to a five year programme to provide twice-yearly education updates to the graduated doctors, and to continue to train new doctors annually through the Guyana Echocardiography Education Programme.  The next education update will occur in November of this year, with a focus on echocardiography and cardiac assessment and treatment of babies and children.

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