​In Papua New Guinea (PNG), local hospitals do not have the expertise or equipment to do heart surgery.   Instead, all such operations are carried out by a team of Australian surgeons who fly in once a year.

But the National Heart Centre Singapore (NHCS) has been working with doctors there to set up the country's first cardiac unit, which could be ready by next year.   It has trained three doctors - two cardiologists and a heart surgeon - who will form the core of the new unit.

"To develop heart surgery, you really need a team - cardiologists, nurses, surgeons and so on," said Adjunct Associate Professor Chua Yeow Leng, a senior consultant with the Singapore centre's cardiothoracic surgery department.

For the past six years, NHCS doctors have been flying to PNG on humanitarian missions. "But we cannot go over to do surgery for them all the time," Prof Chua said.   "We wanted to get them a team that they can call their own."

One of the doctors he has been training is Dr Noah Tapaua, who has been with the centre for two years.   Dr Noah, who spoke at the first International Conference on Humanitarian Medical Missions at the Academia building on the Singapore General Hospital (SGH) campus last week, will be flying back in January to establish PNG's first cardiac surgery team.   The new centre will start off by doing "straightforward" surgery, such as fixing holes in the heart for children born with the defect.

The country has a population of 7.3 million. Each year, 60 patients are shortlisted to undergo heart surgery by the Australian team, out of more than a thousand in total.   "The rest of the patients will just continue on medications," Dr Noah said.   "A few, who can afford it, fly out (to get surgery)."

He hopes to perform between 50 and 100 operations a year when he returns to PNG.   To help kick-start the new team, SGH is also helping to train nurses and perfusionists - specialists who operate heart-lung machines during surgery.

"We need to train the whole team," Prof Chua said. "You cannot train one person, and expect him to make a difference."

Source: The Straits Times Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.