Nabadat helps overcome
shortage of qualified hands

A local humanitarian initiative is saving the lives of children with congenital heart defects — and helping solve the shortage of specialists in the UAE to meet this growing problem.

By Sarah Young (

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Published: Thu 18 Jul 2013, 10:00 AM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2015, 6:44 PM

Head of the Dubai Health Authority cardiology team at Dubai Hospital, Dr Obaid Al Jassim, said one of the main benefits of the Nabadat initiative, which provides free treatment for children with congenital heart defects, was the transfer of knowledge from surgeons and specialists from abroad who came to help.

“They can teach us and help develop our knowledge.”

The number of specialists working in this area in the UAE was few, and there was only one other centre, in Abu Dhabi, which performed paediatric surgery.

In fact, the number of surgeons in the UAE, including himself, numbered only three, and one of these was an assistant surgeon, he said.

“It’s not enough to cover the whole emirates, and there’s a lot (of people) coming from outside (who need surgery too). And with the population increasing, we cannot rely on (these two services alone).

“And the surgeon is just one part. When you do these types of surgeries, you need a whole team … assistant surgeons, nurses, anaesthetists, and perfusionists to run the bypass machine.

“You also need people to diagnose the defect too.”

Specialist staff in the intensive care unit where patients went following surgery were also critical.

“Anything wrong in intensive care after the surgery may affect the result. You need well-educated nurses there.”

Dr Gerhard Ziemer, director of paediatric cardiac surgery at the University of Chicago, who headed the latest Nabadat workshop, said he and the other doctors enjoyed the chance to share their knowledge and experience.

This was especially important given the increasing numbers of children diagnosed with congenital heart disease and how critical surgical treatment was to survive the consequences of this disease on their growth and life, he said.

“We will be happy to come again in the future and do more surgeries on children under the Nabadat initiative.”

Dr Al Jassim said treatment was critical to ensure the child’s growth was not stunted, they could undertake normal activity without becoming easily fatigued, and in severe cases, that they did not die.

And the complex precision required and speed meant well-trained and specialist surgeons were necessary, particularly given the need to stop the heart.

This is done using a bypass machine, which effectively replaces the heart and lungs, as tubes take blood from the heart to the machine where it is oxygenated and then pumped back to the body.

“We can stop the heart for a long time, but the longer we do it, the more possibility of harm.”

Stopping the heart for less than four hours was generally okay, but anything between four to eight hours could cause harm to organs such as the kidneys and lungs, and more than eight hours could cause a lot of serious organ damage, he said.

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