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Open Access Short Report

The spectrum of paediatric cardiac disease presenting to an outpatient clinic in Malawi

Neil Kennedy1* and Paul Miller2

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Paediatrics and Child Health, University of Malawi, P/Bag 360 Chichiri, Blantyre 3, Malawi

2 Consultant Paediatric Cardiologist, Birmingham Children’s Hospital, Birmingham, UK

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BMC Research Notes 2013, 6:53  doi:10.1186/1756-0500-6-53

Published: 7 February 2013



As progress is made towards attaining Millennium Development Goal 4, further reductions in paediatric mortality will only be achieved by concentrating on the burden of non-communicable or neglected diseases. The literature relating to paediatric cardiac disease in sub-Saharan Africa is sparse. There are no published descriptions of paediatric cardiac disease from Malawi, making it impossible to estimate the contribution it makes to childhood morbidity and mortality.


In 2008, a paediatric cardiac clinic with echocardiogram scanning was established in Blantyre, southern Malawi. Between January 2009 and February 2011, the age and cardiac diagnosis of every child with an abnormal echocardiogram was recorded in a database. Of 250 children, 139 (55.6%) had congenital heart disease, and 111 (44.4%) acquired heart disease. Ventricular septal defect (VSD) (24%), Tetralogy of Fallot (10%) and patent ductus arteriousus (7.2%) were the commonest forms of congenital heart disease. Rheumatic heart disease (RHD) (22.4%) and dilated cardiomyopathy (13.6%) were the commonest acquired diseases. The mean age of presentation was 3 years 2 months for VSD and 11 years 6 months for RHD.


In this cohort of children from one centre in Malawi, acquired heart disease – in particular rheumatic heart disease was almost as common as congenital heart disease. Most presented late. It is likely that untreated cardiac disease causes a large number of childhood deaths in Malawi. In addition to renewing secondary preventative efforts against rheumatic heart disease, adequate and accessible cardiothoracic surgical services should be established at a regional level.

Rheumatic; Global child health; Africa