Until recently, the Eastern Cape had only one full-time cardiologist in the public sector, based at Port Elizabeth’s Provincial Hospital. That post will be vacant soon as the incumbent, Dr Basil Brown, retires at the end of this year and there is no indication as yet of a replacement.
The new catherization laboratory at Mthatha under Dr Khulile Moeketsi, is not yet fully operational as technical and support staff must still be appointed.
Previously, the only paediatric cardiologist in the province’s public sector, Dr Lungile Pepeta, was scooped away from clinical practice at Dora Nginza hospital to head up the reconfigured health sciences faculty at the Nelson Mandela University in Port Elizabeth. He has been replaced by Dr Adele Greyling, who now heads up the paediatric cardiology unit at Port Elizabeth’s hospital complex which includes Provincial and Dora Nginza hospitals.
General paediatricians in East London – Maurice Levy at Frere Hospital and Felicity Goosen at Cecilia Makiwane Hospital – work closely with the Red Cross team.
“Both of them can do echocardiography – an ultrasound of the heart – very well. They know what’s going on and they know how to manage their patients. They can’t [retire] because they know that children will die when they leave,” says Dr Rik de Decker of Red Cross Children’s Hospital.
Currently, children in the public sector from the eastern part of the province can be referred to PE’s hospital complex for cardiology treatment. However, RRCH still sees the bulk of young local patients with heart disease that require surgical or cardiac catherization laboratory (cathlab) interventions.
Cecilia Makiwane’s mammoth extension which was commissioned in September offers the prospect of placing a cardiac team in a centre which serves a huge hinterland.
“In the Eastern Cape, you only need one cardiology centre and then you need to go out to find children who need cardiac services,” says De Decker, adding that “there are many steps in place already but it needs to be co-ordinated.
“Part of the problem is that there is this sense that quality cannot come out of the Eastern Cape; that’s complete garbage.”