The Founders: Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is a growing burden - it’s the leading cause of death globally - and we recognized that CVD management, such as early diagnosis or treatment, is not available to the most vulnerable populations, especially in low- and middle-income countries.
As we started working in Africa, Asia, and the Americas, we soon realized that not only was it important to save lives by offering treatment, but that we must also prevent diseases through education and screening campaigns, and build local capacities to maintain this level of care.
T.F: We’ve always valued partnerships above strategy. We started working in Haiti with our friend and ambassador, Jimmy Jean-Louis, after the 2010 earthquake. Access to cardiovascular care does not exist in Haiti, so we mobilized resources and partners, and reinforced the actions of international associations. In India, we created a partnership with the Amrita Institute of Medical Sciences, while our deployment in Côte d’Ivoire was through a partnership with the Didier Drogba Foundation. Each initiative we undertake is carried out in partnership with local partners. Our role is to federate the global development and cardiovascular disease management actors, and to reinforce the initiatives of local partners.
We’ve always valued
partnerships above strategy.
T.F: We created The Heart Fund in 2010, which to our knowledge is the first non-profit endowment fund dedicated to the fight against cardiovascular disease. In 2012, we embarked on our first pediatric surgery mission in Haiti alongside international actors. After that, we continued to organize our own missions. A few months later, we were invited by Sean Penn, who is very invested in Haiti, to present our actions at a charity gala held during the Cannes Film Festival. We then organized our own fundraising gala, the Generous People gala. This is the second major step. In 2015 we developed The Heart Mobile, the first-ever cardiac mobile clinic, which was deployed in Côte d’Ivoire the following year. Another important milestone was the 2018 acquisition of the United Nations - ECOSOC Special Consultative Status, which gave us additional legitimacy to federate the global actors in the fight against cardiovascular diseases. Recently, we were invited by the World Heart Federation to participate in a joint awareness and management of rheumatic fever program in Mozambique. All these steps paved the way for us to be cardiovascular disease experts— from education to corrective surgery and to make a change in countries that yesterday had few or no initiatives regarding CVD management.
T.F: The real challenges are human challenges. There were patients for whom we had to mobilize tremendous resources and energy in order to save them. During one open heart surgery in Haiti, we had to search for blood bags in the middle of the night. This was a real challenge, but we succeeded thanks to the French Blood Agency.So, except for human challenges, where the life of a patient is at stake, the rest isn’t much of a challenge. We’d rather see it as steps of understanding. You have to understand the country, the partners you work with, the cultural, the political, the economical, the scientific, and the medical and legislative stakes. If we don’t integrate this understanding, then they become challenges. The important thing is to define your vision, your objectives, and the execution.
T.F: Mobility and connectivity are the major innovations of our time, and they are everywhere in our lives : Space X, Amazon, Uber. However, the medical community has been very passive in the sense that if you are a hospital, the patients have to come to you when they’re sick, and there’s no way to connect the two so that it’s the hospital that goes to the individuals instead. We believe that mobility and connectivity should not only apply to space exploration or the delivery goods, but also to care management. Our mission is to deliver healthcare and education to the most vulnerable or isolated patients. It’s up to us to get to them! Mobility is a key aspect of our vision.
Mobility is a key aspect
of our vision
T.F: It came about in Mauritania, in 2013, after we met with this little girl named Mariame. Mariame lived several hours away from the cardiac center in Nouakchott, the capital city where we were organizing a pediatric cardiac surgery mission with Pr. Mohamed LY, fellow cardiac surgeon and President of the French Heart Association for West Africa. Due to a lack of mobility and resources, this little girl had never been treated and her pathology was so advanced that it was impossible to save her. This experience was decisive: we must disrupt the approach by bringing the hospital directly to the doorsteps of underserved populations.
T.F: Our premise is that if the initiative shows positive impact, it must be democratized and made available to as many people as possible. As a start-up company would do, we developed our first clinic and tested it in the field under the framework of a pilot program. The results were very convincing - without this clinic, the populations had no access to care. With the clinic, they had access to an entire chain of value: the coordination of a medical presence by local doctors, cardiologists and nurses, free access to laboratory tests, cardiovascular imaging, medical referral, and treatment. In the most serious cases, we provided access to heart surgery in their home country. Not only is it revolutionary in terms of healthcare delivery, but this ecosystem is cost effective and relatively easy to implement. Thanks to UPL and the Shroff family, we are scaling up this initiative and just launched a second clinic in the Côte d’Ivoire. We are also working on the deployment of a third clinic in Mozambique at the end of the year.
T.F: We initiate strategic partnerships with institutional organizations and with entities from both the private sector and civil society to raise funds, and collect resources or medical equipment. It can be local companies that want to take their part in the fight against cardiovascular disease in their countries through impact investing, international development agencies that want to deploy innovation for good, or local medical partners and fellow organizations. We approach them with specific initiative proposals, and in return bring our expertise as innovators in global health.
T.F: Absolutely, because prevention is the best treatment! Any society that industrializes adopts the risk behaviors responsible for 75% of all cardiovascular diseases worldwide: dietary changes, sedentary lifestyle, smoking habits. Not only do these countries have limited capacities in terms of chronic diseases management, but education on these issues is poorly developed, and the consequences are dramatic. Very early on, it was clear to us that we should offer upstream interventions in order to safeguard the health of children and millennials, and thus contribute to spare developing countries of the double burden of chronic diseases.
Prevention is the best treatment!
T.F: All our actions are deployed with local partners: we offer them our expertise in cardiovascular disease management, and they share with us their cultural background or their knowledge of how to work with local institutions. They are key to deploying our joint initiatives among local communities. We also organize joint press conferences and rely on our local ambassadors to help us spread prevention messages and mobilize populations, like Jimmy Jean-Louis in Haiti or Didier Drogba in Côte d’Ivoire.
T.F: This question underlines the paramount importance of working with local partners, particularly in the case of cardiac surgery missions, which we always perform in the patient’s home countries. Therefore, we only set up this type of initiative in cities with state-of-the-art cardiac centers that have both the capacity to perform this type of surgery and manage the follow-up care. These cardiac centers are the Lambert Clinic, in Port-au-Prince, which is a member of the Chain of Hope Foundation, the AMRITA Institute of Medical Sciences in Cochin, India, represented by Prof. Krishna Kumar, and the Institute of Cardiology of Abidjan, in Côte d’Ivoire, with Prof. Roland N’Guetta and his teams.So not only is the medical follow-up systematic, but it is done in a context of absolute trust. Trust between our partners and ourselves - surgeries are performed as “two-surgeons, four-hands” during best practices exchanges - but also between the patients and our local partners, who ensure their follow-up care.
T.F: There are two types of initiatives. The first one is a one-time missions, such as heart surgery missions, which success can be easily monitored: we operated on X children and saved all of them, everything went smoothly in terms of coordination and execution. That’s a success! Then there are long-term initiatives, like the 5-year partnership we recently signed with UPL in Côte d’Ivoire. Or our exchange program with the AMRITA Institute of Medical Sciences, in India, where the portable ultrasound equipment we donated in 2015 to Pr. Kumar is still in use and allows his team of cardiologists to perform 3,000 screenings each year in remote areas of the region. Overall, we would say that the success of a program is its autonomy, while our success is reflected in the accomplishments of our local partners without us.
The success of a program lies in its autonomy.
T.F: We are determined to keep fighting local health inequalities, with a global health approach, from education all the way up to treatment. We want to invite more local partners from civil society to come and work with us on developing initiatives that benefit their communities. We want to deploy more and more mobile clinics, with the goal of eventually having a fleet around the entire African continent, at first, and then someday hopefully, the entire globe. Above all, we want to keep being proactive: we invite all the actors of the fight against health inequalities and chronic diseases to build a platform with us: a set of initiatives that would make it possible to prevent the disease, not just cure it. We envisioned, for instance, the concept of a health village: a sustainable ecosystem that would bring together agriculture, nutrition, sanitary and health education, chronic disease management and green energy. That’s our challenge for the next decade!
T.F: We’ve always valued working with individuals with aligned leaderships and values above working with “big names”. That’s why this human venture has been going on for a decade, now. Do you think access to healthcare should be democratized and made available to all, across the globe? If the answer is yes, then we want to work with you! Does innovation excite you? Do you think it should be leveraged for good? Again, if the answer is yes, then we want to work with you! We want to work with individuals and leaders who are gifted with a bold, entrepreneurial spirit, and who are not afraid to go out there and hustle to improve things, with and for local communities.
If you think healthcare access should be democratized, then we want to work with you.
The first Heart Mobile will travel throughout Côte d'Ivoire in partnership with the Didier Drogba Foundation and will enable screening tens of thousands of children. The Heart Mobile will continue its journey through ten countries around the Gulf of Guinea.
Established in 2010 by pediatric cardiac surgeon Dr. David LUU, The Heart Fund (THF) is an international non-profit organization dedicated to democratizing access to cardiovascular care and health education, and to advancing cardiology research and practice in low- and middle- income countries. From last mile delivery (smart ecosystem The Heart Mobile™) to corrective surgery and epidemiological research, THF has been developing innovative and culturally-relevant solutions to better prevent, assess, and manage chronic diseases in low-resource settings.
The Heart Fund was granted the United Nations - ECOSOC Special Consultative Status in 2018 and has been working with international development agencies (UN, WHO, PAHO, OCHA, PADF), governments, medical companies, as well as with local and international partners of civil society. It is a member of the World Heart Federation and has offices in Paris, Abidjan, and New York City.
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