"We approached Pfizer and asked if they could sell us the product at a reduced rate. They said, actually, how about we donate the product," said Dr Noel Bayley from East Timor Hearts Fund.
East Timor Hearts Fund is Australia's only medical aid charity dedicated to providing life-saving heart surgery in Australia for young people from Timor-Leste (East Timor).
It also runs cardiac clinics in the country. One of the key goals is to diagnose patients with rheumatic heart disease.
According to Dr Bayley, who has been travelling to East Timor for the past 13 years to run the cardiac clinics, rheumatic heart disease is prevalent in developing countries.
"It is largely unknown in Australia, except for remote indigenous communities. We think it's probably caused by bacterial infections in childhood, which trigger the immune system to attack heart valves. Sadly, it's not uncommon for young children in East Timor to die of end stage heart failure, which you just don't see in Australia," said Dr Bayley.
"Regular penicillin injections dramatically reduce the risk of progression, but they need regular injections until they're about 20, which can be quite an expensive exercise,” he added.
Pfizer recently confirmed the donation of Bicillin LA (benzathine benzylpenicillin) to East Timor Hearts Fund. The company said it had entered a three-year agreement to provide 3,900 syringes to the organisation. This will effectively provide 13 injections a year for three years to 100 patients.
"We can't thank Pfizer enough for their very generous donation - many kids in East Timor are much less likely to die as a result," said Dr Bayley.
“Australia is at the forefront of treatment of rheumatic heart disease (RHD) due to continual government investment in indigenous healthcare and thanks to clinicians such as Dr Noel Bayley who recognise the importance prevention can play in reducing the impact of the disease," said Ashok Dixit, Portfolio Manager Pfizer Hospital Solutions.
“This is much harder in developing countries such as East Timor as the required health infrastructure is not in place.
“Pfizer was in a unique position in this instance to provide stock to the East Timor Hearts Fund to support the building of a robust RHD program to meaningfully impact patient lives and we are proud to partner with an organisation that has a proven track record in East Timor for over 15 years.”
(Photo ourtesy Mat Lynn / East Timor Hearts Fund)