File photo: Xinhua
Heart surgeons have joined hands to save millions of lives.

The first steps in a global initiative that will save thousands of lives and honour the legacy of Dr Christiaan Barnard will be taken in Cape Town this month, exactly 50 years after the world's first successful heart transplant took place at Groote Schuur Hospital.

The initiative nurtured in the Christiaan Barnard Division for Cardiothoracic Surgery will be triggered by the signing of the “Cape Town Declaration”.

The declaration will bind many of the world's most respected leaders in cardio-thoracic surgery, academics, cardiologists, policy makers and representatives of the (medical) device industry to work together.

They will strive to bring the benefits of heart surgery to the estimated 33 million people worldwide, who are affected by rheumatic heart disease.

Many of these patients will die without surgery. Rheumatic heart disease occurs most frequently among people living in crowded conditions with limited access to health care.

An initial untreated infection of the throat with streptococcal bacteria leads to an immune response of the body that inadvertently also attacks a patient's heart valves.

According to Professor Peter Zilla, head of the Christiaan Barnard Division for Cardiothoracic Surgery at Groote Schuur, “it will be the first time ever that a declaration of this nature aiming specifically at bringing the benefits of up-to-date heart surgery to impoverished communities will be endorsed by such an influential group of professionals.

“I predict it will mark a turning point in the delivery of lifesaving medical procedures to millions of people in the developing world.” 

Earlier this year, Strait Access Technologies, a start-up company of UCT, received two prestigious global awards for innovation in cardiac surgery.