Heart surgeons from around the world have gathered at Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town for the 50th anniversary of the first heart transplant by Professor Chris Barnard.

The theme of the three-day gathering is “courage and Innovations”.

The surgeons will discuss the progress made over the past 50 years in heart surgery and how technology has improved procedures so far.

Many people suffering from heart diseases in poor countries around the world and have no access to cardiac surgery.

These were among top issues discussed at the gathering.

At least 400 delegates from around the globe have gathered at Groote Schuur Hospital.

Head of the Christian Barnard Department of Heart Surgery, Professor Peter Zilla, says they have a task to stay on top of international developments.

Zilla says South Africa has 47 heart centres of which six cares for over 50 million people without medical aid.

“What was really important for us, was to recognise our specific challenges as the university heart centre in Africa, what can we do that the north would not do, and we have focused on for the last 20 years on bringing heart valves to areas where you have no heart surgery.”

A heart surgeon from China, Professor Wei Wanf says China also faces serious challenges.

“There are more than 700 cardiac surgery centres in China, but we have a very big population, more than 1.3 billion people. So we only have 0.5 centres per million people, so it’s a very small number. We can do many heart surgeries per year, but mostly in the coastal areas.”

Head of the Division of Non Communicable Diseases in the National Health Institute of Mozambique, Professor Ana Mocumbi says there’s an on-going need to train their local teams.

Mocumbi says they currently rely on visiting surgeons from Europe and the US:

“We also have a collaboration with Cape Town, trying to not operate on our children only, but these humanitarian efforts go to children predominantly. After 16 years of heart operations since the first heart operation in Mozambique, we now have 2 centres working, and five surgeons who are trained through this programme, and are now working on public hospitals and one private non-profit organisation.”

It’s estimated that over 33 million people globally are in need of lifesaving heart surgery.