By Sola Ogundipe
IF there is one thing Nwankwo Kanu is well known for outside the football arena, it is philathropy. The one-time African Footballer of the Year ‘s commitment to providing a better lease of life to Nigerians with heart problemsÂ is legendary.
Recently, throughÂ Â the Kanu Heart Foundation (KHF) – a charity organisation founded – a free heart surgeryÂ partnership arrangement with another NGO – Emergency Italy – world wideÂ was sealed.
Speaking during the official signing of the agreement, Kanu, Coordinator of the KHF, said the partnership arrangement had been inÂ incubatingÂ for over year but got a break through in May 2009 in England when both parties finally agreed to collaborate in a partnership arrangement where 50 heart patients from the stable of the KHF will receive free open heart surgery every year in the Salam Center for Cardiac Surgery, at the Blue Nile area of Khartoum, Sudan.
In Kanu’s own words “During the process of negotiations for this wonderful gesture we had the privilege of traveling to Khartoum, Sudan to inspect this ultra modern facility. To say that we were amazed at what we saw is an understatement as the facility can compare favourably with what is obtainable in other parts of the world where we have visited.”
According to him, the underlying fact behind the arrangement was that the Foundation within its nine years of activities has on its waiting list more than 500 heart patients. “These numbers are mostly children who in most cases do not survive their 5th birthday. We are challenged by this monstrous and astronomical figure which keep rising by the day, since we sponsored the two first beneficiaries to Crown Hospital, London where the Foundation spent 50, 000 British pounds on the two surgeries alone, in addition to incidentals such as air tickets for the patients and their accompanyingÂ mothers.
“As of today the KHF has carried out 332 open heart surgeries in Israel, India, United Kingdom and Nigeria and committed more than four million dollars have been spent to the project in medical fees, air tickets, accommodation and feeding of patients, their accompanied parents and medical escorts.
Said Kanu “We are seriously challenged by the rising cases of heart related diseases in the country more so at this period of global economic crisis. It is therefore incumbent upon us that we see the KHF – Emergency-Italy partnership as one way of getting out of the woods.
Emergency Italy is also facilitatingÂ the planning and design of the proposed Kanu Heart Foundation Cardiac Specialist Hospital as well as assisting in the area of recruitment of personnel.
On its own part, Kanu Heart Foundation is organising fund raising events locally and internationally to complement the efforts ofÂ the partnership with Emergency Italy. One of such events is the proposed charity football match involving Italian Seria and Inter Milan and a selected professional side led by Nwankwo Kanu himself and also will feature President of the Club, Masson Moratti also a patron of the Foundation as well as Emergency Italy.
Talks are already on with the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH) on the possibility of diagnosing and treatment of patients supported by the KHF.
“One way the Foundation is tackling this heart related problem is by organising heart summits in various States of the Federation and the resultsÂ have been tremendous in Abuja, Lagos, Enugu and Imo States, 42 heart patients were discovered. InÂ Imo State 54, cases during the Echocardiograhy tests.
” It is pathetic that most State governments are paying lip service to related issues especially heart disease which has become a major killer in the world today.
The amount of money expended by Nigerians on health matters especially the heart could have been reduced if modern facilities and equipment are provided in most of our hospitals.”
Kanu added that in 2003Â whenÂ 20 medical doctors came from the United States of America led by Prof. Novick, there were 13 surgeries in 10 days at theÂ UNTH and this gave encouragement that given the right atmosphere and facilities, Nigerian doctors can also perform locally.
He hoped thatÂ the partnership will bring success and relief to many Nigerian and African children suffering from heart related diseases.