At least 16,000 out of 1.4 million children born annually in the country have heart defects, the Uganda Heart Institute (UHI) revealed on Tuesday.
Dr John Omagino, the UHI director, said congenital heart defects (CHDs) are caused by factors that can be controlled and others that are yet to be determined.
Presenting at birth, CHDs can affect the structure of a baby’s heart and the way it works by altering blood flow through the heart and out to the rest of the body.
CHDs can be mild such as a small hole in the heart or severe such as missing or poorly formed parts of the heart, according to Dr Omagino.
“Babies born to mothers of extreme ages are at higher risks of having heart defects. In young girls of 15 to 16 years, their hormonal system has not yet stabilised. So the chance of producing a baby with heart defect is high,” he said.
He added: “Even at the end of a mother’s reproductive years, at around 45, their system also becomes unstable and so the risk is also high.”
According to Dr Omagino, the best age bracket to escape the risk is to produce a baby when one is between 22 and 29 years.
Dr Omagino make the remarks in an interview at the launch of the fourth edition of the annual “OmutimaGwo” campaign aimed at creating awareness on heart health with focus on prevention, detection, and treatment.
The campaign, which was launched at UHI headquarters in Kampala, is being done in partnership with Ministry of Health, International Medical Centre, Prudential Assurance Uganda Limited, among other private sector partners.
Dr Omagino also said mothers, who suffered previous infections such as German measles, are at higher risk of giving birth to children with the defects.
“Definite infections and fevers during the first three months of pregnancy when the vital organs of the baby in the womb start growing, also increase the risk of having a baby with heart defects,” he said.
He added: “Any other thing that can destabilise the early form of pregnancy, that is chemicals like tobacco, drugs like thalidomide (for cancer treatment) and septrin and alcohol. They may affect the growing baby.”
Dr Omagino said there is need to keep girls longer in school and avoid drugs and chemicals that increase the risk of producing a baby with heart defects.
About 50 percent of children born annually with heart defects need corrective operation but only 12 percent can access care due to lack of facilities, according to information from UHI.
Mr Apollo Mukubuya, the Board chairman of Prudential Assurance Uganda Limited, said there is need to do more to curb heart diseases.
He said there is a strong need to increase sensitisation of the public about heart diseases, increase screening and access to other heart health-related services.
“With the continued support from our partners, we are able to help the public access these services at no cost to them. We thank our partners for working with us and helping the public access these services,” he said.