West Africa is one of the poorest regions of the world. The sixteen nations listed by the United Nations in this sub-region have some of the lowest gross domestic products in the world. Health care infrastructure is deficient in most of these countries. Cardiac surgery, with its heavy financial outlay is unavailable in many West African countries. These facts notwithstanding, some West African countries have a proud history of open heart surgery not very well known even in African health care circles. Many African health care givers are under the erroneous impression that the cardiovascular surgical landscape of West Africa is blank. However, documented reports of open-heart surgery in Ghana dates as far back as 1964 when surface cooling was used by Ghanaian surgeons to close atrial septal defects. Ghana's National Cardiothoracic Center is still very active and is accredited by the West African College of Surgeons for the training of cardiothoracic surgeons. Reports from Nigeria indicate open-heart surgery taking place from 1974. Cote D'Ivoire had reported on its first 300 open-heart cases by 1983. Senegal reported open-heart surgery from 1995 and still runs an active center. Cameroon started out in 2009 with work done by an Italian group that ultimately aims to train indigenous surgeons to run the program. This review traces the development and current state of cardiothoracic surgery in West Africa with Ghana's National Cardiothoracic Center as the reference. It aims to dispel the notion that there are no major active cardiothoracic centers in the West African sub-region.
Keywords: Cardiac surgery; cardiopulmonary bypass; congenital heart disease; open-heart surgery; rheumatic heart disease.