Steve Biko Academic Hospital in Pretoria, which was recently awarded the Diamond Stroke Award at an international convention for reducing treatment times for stroke patients from eight hours to just 15 minutes, hopes its example can be applied to improve stroke care countrywide – especially as South Africa has so few neurology specialists.
The fast-tracked treatment has resulted in shorter hospital stays and less strain on resources, and also means patients recover much faster. Their chances of recovering and returning to their jobs are also increased, says the hospital’s head of neurology Professor Mandisa Kakaza, who adds that time is of the essence when treating stroke victims, reports News24.
The Diamond Stroke Award was awarded to the hospital at the 2022 International European Stroke Congress by international stroke treatment advocacy group, Angels. The hospital’s Stroke Unit is the first and only internationally accredited unit of its kind in South Africa.
The award recognised the strides the hospital has made in reducing the disability effects of strokes and preventing deaths caused by strokes. The new treatment approach means patients are more likely to be independent and remain economically active after a stroke. And because patients are being treated faster, long-term damage to the brain is being reduced and patients need less recovery time in hospital, says Kakaza.
Most strokes are caused by a blockage in a blood vessel which prevents blood from flowing to part of the brain. The lack of blood can cause brain tissue to die within minutes. Because brain tissue doesn’t regenerate, the damage during a stroke can be permanent.
During this type of stroke, the area around the stroke site can suffer reduced blood flow – but if doctors act quickly to dissolve the blockage, damage to the surrounding area can be vastly reduced, Kakaza says.
For patients who qualify for acute treatment, the average stay in hospital has dropped from around 33 days to six days. This not only saves the hospital money, but also frees up beds for other patients, says Gauteng Health MEC Dr Nomathemba Mokgethi.
Last year, the Stroke Unit team examined its management of stroke patients, with the aim of ensuring that patients regained their independence as swiftly as possible.
“We see, on average, two to three stroke patients a day. It’s a big burden on society. In many developing countries, strokes tend to happen to people older than 65. However, in South Africa we have non-communicable diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, and obesity. In South Africa, the average age of stroke victims is around 40. You might be unable to look after family and become dependent on others for care. It’s that burden we are trying to reduce,” Kakaza says.
The hospital has also increased training for junior healthcare workers to help them identify stroke patients faster in the emergency room, and implemented a system to better store data for research purposes.
The hospital is also partnering with Boston University in America to implement a rapid AI tool that will allow faster and better interpretation of CT scan images.
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