The Andhra Pradesh government has drawn up an ambitious programme of treating about 6,000 poor children suffering from congenital heart diseases during the year.
This is a part of the ongoing 'Save a Child's Heart' (SACH) programme being implemented by the Congress government three years ago. The government stepped in after a number of children from poor families with congenital heart diseases died during a protest rally held by them in 2004 to highlight their plight.
Initially the government tried to pass the buck by blaming the Opposition for being "heartless" to bring these sick children for the rally. But later, they buckled under the pressure of public opinion and announced a statewide survey to identify children with congenital heart problems and then take up their treatment.
The first survey conducted in 2004 found 5,500 children suffering from heart ailments and their treatment was taken up. Since each operation costs anywhere between Rs 60,000 to Rs 70,000, the government sought help from corporate, charitable organisations, NGOs and private hospitals. The result - 2,000 operations were done in 2004 and another 2,700 in 2005.
While over 700 children identified in 2004 are awaiting their turn, yet another survey conducted by the government on October 8 has identified another 5,000 children suffering from similar problems. Since the parents are too poor to afford the treatment, the government has decided to fund the operation costs as well as buy pacemakers wherever necessary.
"We are analysing the data sent by the teaching hospitals. Soon we will schedule the children for surgery. Children who require urgent attention will get priority," said Dr IV Rao, director of medical education. He said that the government has identified 48 government and private hospitals with necessary facilities where the children would undergo treatment sponsored by the government.
The government has also created cardiac check up cells for children in several hospitals. Once diagnosed with the problem, each child gets an all-purpose identification card, which helps him get treatment from the selected hospitals without making payment. Several corporate hospitals have opened SACH cells to help raise funds to facilitate free treatment too.
"Two lakh children are born every year in India with heart diseases. One-tenth of these births take place in Andhra Pradesh. The problem calls for a concerted effort by all members of society," said Samba Murthy, Medical Director of SACH at Apollo hospitals.