The number of heart specialist doctors in Kenya and the region is set to increase and ultimately improve care for patients suffering from heart diseases thanks to a Cardiology Training Fellowship Programme started by Aga Khan University Hospital to train qualified physicians in the specialty. The University Hospital is currently the only one offering a structured curriculum-based programme in cardiology in the region.

To be admitted to this highly competitive and intense programme, candidates should possess a Master of Medicine degree or an equivalent Royal College of Physicians degree. The training entails multiple rotations in five core areas of practice including inpatient rotations, outpatient rotations, imaging rotations, cardiac catheterization laboratory and completion of a research project before completion of the programme.

“For the first time in Kenya, we are now able to train cardiologists to conduct complex procedures in heart medicine including implantation of heart devices and procedures related to haemodynamics (blood pressure evaluation in heart chambers) monitoring in very sick patients. Physicians interested in pursuing a cardiology specialisation don’t have to leave the country as they have a capable and equivalent facility locally.”

“Training is hands-on with a dedicated team of consultant cardiologists who are widely involved in research to improve existing care models and innovations in methods of care delivery. Fellows are trained on how to conduct and interpret different cardiology imaging modalities including echocardiography, cardiac MRI, cardiac CT scan and nuclear imaging to make diagnosis”, says Dr Mzee Ngunga, Director, Cardiology Fellowship Programme and Consultant Interventional Cardiologist at Aga Khan University Hospital.

The three year training programme curriculum is tailored for Africa with a bit of borrowing from North America particularly on fellow evaluation and assessment. Currently three fellows are undergoing the programme with a fourth one expected to join in mid 2018.

“This is the first recognised fellowship programme in cardiology in the region and its uniqueness stems from the fact that our fellows undergo a structured and curriculum-based programme that models them into a well rounded cardiologist that can deliver care to patients in a dynamic and challenging environment in Africa”, says Dr Mohamed Jeilan, Director, Cardiology Services at the hospital.

According to Dr Ngunga, currently with a population of 48 million, Kenya has only about 40 cardiologists, most of whom practice in Nairobi and the other few in Kisumu and Mombasa which unfortunately leaves the rest of the population with long distances to travel to access care. This means every cardiologist attends to 1.2 million Kenyans, a dire deficit the fellowship programme is aiming to address.

Cardiovascular disease including heart disease and stroke, is the world’s number one killer. Each year, it’s responsible for 17.5 million deaths and by 2030 this is expected to rise to 23 million. In Africa, the latest projections suggest that by 2030 more people will die from cardiovascular disease than from any other cause of death.

The rate of progression in this condition is both remarkable and alarming. The fact that Kenyans in their twenties and thirties are now experiencing heart attacks means we can no longer afford to ignore the growing risk of heart disease and need to have adequate and capable cardiac personnel to handle the challenges ahead.

Kenya now joins other few African countries offering the programme like Egypt, South Africa and The Sudan.