Getting to the heart of the matter in Fiji

Venkat Raman – 

Almost eleven years ago, we reported that an organisation called, ‘Friends of Fiji Heart Foundation’ has been established in Auckland to treat Fijians suffering from valvular heart disease in the South Pacific nation.

We quoted (Indian Newslink, September 1, 2006) Trust Chairman and Consultant Cardiac and Thoracic Surgeon at Auckland and Mercy hospitals Dr Parma Nand as saying that paucity of finance, lack of medical facilities and inability to travel overseas for medical treatment were among the contributing factors to the rising death rates among the impoverished segments of the Fijian society.

“It is a pity that in the modern age, people should die due to absence of facilities. Valvular heart disease is among the deadliest ailments affecting the people of Fiji,” Dr Nand said, speaking at the launch of the Foundation on August 17, 2006.

Helping the poor

Since then hundreds of lives have been saved and multifold visits of surgeons, specialists, medical practitioners and others have visited Fiji at their own time and expense to conduct tests, diagnose patients, operate on them and see them leading normal lives.

Among those visitors has been Dr Albert Ko, an Interventional Cardiologist based at Ascot Hospital in Greenlane, Auckland.

Over the past several years, he has conducted angioplasty procedures on hundreds of poor Fijians and brought back normalcy in their lives. During his recent visit (which concluded on March 13, 2017), he completed 21 angioplasty procedures in as many patients, while 40 persons underwent angiogram tests.

Achieving self-sufficiency

“I am happy that Fiji is fast becoming self-sufficient in skills; we have doctors and nurses who can perform angiogram and angioplasty procedures on patients without our assistance. They are well trained, committed and resolved to raise the standard of medical practice and service in Fiji,” he said, speaking to Indian Newslink.

Dr Ko was in an early batch of experts to visit as a part of a delegation led by Dr Nand. But it was in 2011 that he conducted the first angiogram and angioplasty.

“I was shown a patient who was in a terrible condition. I conducted an angioplasty procedure and two hours later, he was walking on the corridors of the Hospital. It was a turning point for him in his life and for me in my engagement with Fiji,” he said.

Soon thereafter, Dr Ko saved the life of a taxi driver. After that, he has been visiting Fiji every year, not only to treat patients but also to lobby and arrange equipment required to conduct angiogram and angioplasty.

“Like the proverbial fish and fishing, it was important that we taught the people of Fiji to handle their patients with skill and efficiency. I am happy that we have been able to achieve a lot in these seven years,” he said.

But Dr Ko is conscious of the need to provide more funds, better equipment, train doctors, nurses and other medical practitioners and lift the overall quality of service.

Influencing factors

He said that five major factors influence heart-related diseases. They include family history, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetics and smoking.

“Fiji Indians carry a higher risk of coronary problems, with nine out of 10 requiring intervention. Diabetes strikes them and hence they should exercise caution. We specialists do not see any patient directly. It is therefore imperative that they go for regular medical check-up. Education is important to raise awareness,” Dr Ko said.

“There could be symptoms that would indicate a heart condition. In some people, there may be no symptoms at all. It is therefore advisable that people do not take their health for granted. Early detection can save time, effort, money and most important of all, life. GPs are the first point of contact for people and they will determine the best course of action for their patients,” he added.

Service to people

Dr Ko believes that true to his Christian faith and the oath that he took as a medical professional, his foremost duty is to the people, especially those in need.

“I am committed to work with those helping Pacific nations improve their standards of cardiology treatment. I hope to visit at least once a year the Colonial War Memorial Hospital in Suva and hospitals in Lautoka in other places. I am confident that Fijians will eventually have high standards of medical services and facilities,” he said.

Additional Reading: Our Editorial, ‘Indians should not ignore health warnings’ under Viewlink on Page 12 and ‘Improper care exposes Indians to heart diseases’ under Communitylink .

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  1. Krist

    I think that is important to keep fishery in Fiji and New Zealand. Especially the maori people. They continue to catch fish in the traditional way. At feasts, they enjoy dried flounder, shark-liver sausage and other seafood delicacies. My step mother is maori and she even has her own small Macboat- http://www.macboats.co.nz/category/rescue-boats/ She is a good in fishing and her cooking from fish and seafood is awesome!

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