Treating Hearts, Opening Minds in Afghanistan

“FMIC is the last hope of children with heart conditions in Afghanistan.” Dr Najeebullah Bina

Congenital heart defects are among the most common and deadly of all birth defects, afflicting between four and eight of every 1,000 babies born. In strife-torn Afghanistan, there is only one hospital with the physicians and facilities needed to save the lives of children with serious heart problems: the French Medical Institute for Children in Kabul.

FMIC is managed and operated by AKU as part of a partnership with ​the governments of Afghanistan and France and the French NGO La Chaîne de l’Espoir. Over the last five years, FMIC’s all-Afghan team of cardiac surgeo​ns has performed more than 1,300 surgeries, every one of which represents a life saved or a serious disability prevented.

“FMIC is the last hope of children with heart conditions in Afghanistan,” said Dr Najeebullah Bina, Head of Cardiac Surgery, who performed the first open heart surgery in Afghanistan by an Afghan doctor. Like his colleague Dr Rahima Stanekzai, Head of Paediatric Cardiology, he returned to Afghanistan after training in France. ​With each passing year, FMIC’s cardiac surgeons have managed new feats.

In 2013, they performed the first open heart surgery in Afghanistan on a patient of only 6 kilograms – a young boy named Yasser. Today, they are able to operate on patients weighing as little as 5 kilograms or less.

An estimated 8,500 children are born with heart defects in Afghanistan every year, meaning FMIC is only able to treat a fraction of those in need. But the hospital is working to increase its capacity. In 2013, it accepted its first paediatric cardiology residents as part of a major expansion of its Postgraduate Medical Education Programme.

In addition to saving lives, both Drs Bina and Stanekzai believe their work can contribute to Afghanistan’s efforts to overcome conflict.

“Today, everyone is coming to FMIC for treatment for their children,” Dr Bina said. “They are going back to their provinces and their villages with a smile on their face. So we hope that it may help people to think, even for a few minutes a day – and maybe one day they will say enough is enough, let’s do something together for our motherland, for Afghanistan. That is our wish.”