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COVID-19 to feature as a leading topic at this year’s SA Heart Virtual Congress between 29 – 31 October

This year’s SA Heart Congress (#SAHeartCongress) will be held on a virtual stage enabling some of the best international and local speakers to share their dynamic experiences not only in cardiology but also around the pandemic’s impact in the field.

Cape Town, South Africa (August 24, 2021) – Some of the critical topics related to COVID-19 and cardiology which will be highlighted at the SA Heart Virtual Congress this year will include Grown Up Congenital Heart Disease (GUCH) patients, Myocardial injury in COVID-19 and evidence for cardiac MRI, Utility of Echocardiography, approaches to the management of a patient with COVID-19 and Acute Coronary Syndrome, children with heart disease and COVID-19 and insights into the right ventricle in COVID-19 related lung injury.

Overview of COVID and Cardiovascular Disease
The appearance of COVID-19 infection in late 2019 and its rapid spread throughout the world has had a devastating impact on the lives of patients and their families, medical facilities and healthcare workers. Severe pneumonitis with ensuing hypoxia, thrombosis and multi-organ failure has resulted in more than 4 million deaths worldwide, created an overwhelming demand for intensive care facilities and left many survivors with disabling shortness of breath, lassitude and exhaustion that may persist for months. The additional effects of the social, psychological, and economic stresses of the pandemic have yet to play out in full.

Social distancing, the wearing of facemasks, sanitizing of hands and frequently handled objects, and isolation of asymptomatic infected patients and their contacts have been the mainstay in preventing the spread of infection. The vaccines, developed at warp speed, has reduced morbidity and mortality in those countries that ensured widespread vaccination of their population.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had both direct and indirect influences on the practice of cardiology. Our patients with pre-existing conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, obesity, coronary artery disease and advanced age suffer more severe illness and have a greater chance of dying when they contract COVID-19. The intense inflammatory response that accompanies the illness frequently results in myocarditis-like injury, evidenced by a rise in high sensitivity troponin levels. While this myocardial injury may result in cardiac dysfunction and arrhythmias, its extent is generally limited and will have minimal functional consequences. Frank myocarditis is extremely rare. Though the rise in hs-troponin is generally minor, an elevated level independently predicts mortality.

Apart from the myocardial injury directly induced by the virus, the infection is frequently accompanied by a tendency to thrombosis which may be found in the lungs in association with epithelialitis of the small vessels, or encountered as deep venous thrombosis, acute pulmonary embolism, acute myocardial infarction, or ischaemic stroke. Measurement of d-dimer may reveal the presence of an undetected thrombotic tendency. The Factor Xa inhibitors enoxaparin and rivaroxaban have been used in standard prophylactic and therapeutic doses to counter these threats. It is counterproductive to exceed the standard dose as doing so increases the risk of bleeding. Antiplatelet treatment with aspirin is ineffective.

As with any severe, overwhelming viral infection COVID-19 may aggravate dysfunction in already compromised organs, for instance precipitating acute kidney injury or the unmasking heart failure in the patient with diastolic dysfunction. It may also cause multi-system inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C) that results in severe morbidity and a high mortality.

Effective treatment for COVID-19 infection, in any of its phases is yet to be discovered. Early concerns about the possible adverse effects of ACE inhibitors and angiotensin receptor blockers proved to be unfounded. To date, a bewildering number of agents have been used in attempts to control the infection. Atorvastatin, bamlamivimab, baricitinib, BCG vaccination, convalescent plasma, dexamethasone, hydroxychloroquine, interferon, interleukin-6 antagonism, ivermectin, lopinovir, monoclonal antibodies, recombinant human granulocyte colony stimulating factor, remdesivir, tolicizumab, vitamin C, vitamin D and zinc have all been evaluated. Of these, only dexamethasone has entered routine use in severely ill patients. While some of these agents are reported to shorten hospital stay and reduce the need for ventilation, no trial has provided any conclusive proof of any agent’s or combination of agents’ superiority.

The emergence of the pandemic was accompanied initially by a decrease in the number of patients admitted to hospital for the treatment of acute coronary syndrome. This reduction has been ascribed to patients resisting going to hospital for fear of exposure to COVID-19. Their hesitancy led to later presentation, a greater incidence of complications and a higher out-of-hospital death rate. A study during a later phase of the pandemic found that ACS admission rates were returning to normal. Notwithstanding this tendency to revert to the former “norm”, moratoria on the admission of elective cases and the diversion of resources and personnel to care for critically ill COVID-19 patients combined with patients’ anxieties about hospital admission currently limits the ability of cardiologists to treat non-COVID patients in hospital.

The COVID-19 pandemic has generated a tsunami of publications in medical literature. While knowledge of the disease has increased remarkably, the urgency with which answers to the problem have been sought has resulted in many small observational studies of questionable quality being published with less stringent review of the data before it is presented. Add to this the controversial contributions of conspiracy theorists and it becomes clear that uncertainty and many questions remain.

Other hot topics to be discussed
•  Arrhythmias: An approach to common clinical problems
•  Controversies and perspectives
•  A Masterclass in Cardiac Pacing
•  Heart Failure in CHD
•  What is new in imaging?
•  CVD Prevention
•  CVD Imbizo – Women in Cardiology
•  A primer in valvular disease
•  Heart failure – managing co-morbidities and special considerations
•  Update: coronary artery disease
•  Interventional cardiology: A Masterclass
•  Trials and Tribulations for the practicing physician
•  COVID-19: the heart of the matter
•  Paediatric cardiology programme
•  Allied cardiac professional programme
•  Cardiac surgery – integrated into the main plenaries
•  AI: The next frontier - implications for Africa
•  Cardiology for non-cardiologists (Workshop)

Registration details:

Congress videos:
1. Dr Blanche Cupido:
2. Prof. Liesl Zühlke:
3. Dr David Jankelow:
4. Conference video:

Confirmed speakers:
A well-respected local and international faculty will speak at the SA Heart Congress, including Lord Sebastion Coe, Dr Bernard Gersch and Professor Eugene Braunwald.

Invited Faculty:


Dr Blanche Cupido, President of SA Heart said, “It gives me great pleasure to welcome you to participate in the SA Heart® Congress 2021, this year to be held virtually from 29-31 October 2021. With the option of going virtual, we hope to establish a stronger connection with the cardiovascular community from anywhere around the country, the continent, and the world. Under the leadership of Dr David Jankelow, the immediate past president of SA Heart® and Congress Chair 2021, an exciting and innovative programme, geared at being practically relevant, has been devised. The theme this year is ‘A Masterclass’. Building on your contribution to the success of our past meetings, we are confident of our comprehensive programme covering a range of contemporary topics in cardiology and featuring eminent regional and international experts in the field.”

Dr David Jankelow, SA Heart Congress Convenor and Immediate Past President said, “On behalf of the organising committee of SA Heart® 2021 - A Masterclass, it is my great pleasure to invite you to attend our first virtual congress from the 29 – 31 October 2021. A wide local and international faculty will provide for a current overview of cardiovascular medicine.
Our programme, through a unique digital platform will explore the latest science and advancements in the treatment of heart disease. We wish to stimulate a creative exchange of ideas with much collaboration and learning. I look forward to welcoming you to a scintillating educational experience.”

Professor Deon Bezuidenhout, Chairman of the Board said, “On behalf of the SA Heart® board, I would like to welcome you to the annual congress of the South African Heart Association. The association's goals of promoting public awareness, fostering fellowships, improving practice guidelines, and promoting research, training and teaching in the field of cardiovascular healthcare delivery are all embodied in the spirit of the congress, “A Masterclass”, as envisioned by Dr David Jankelow and the organising committee.

The congress attracts cardiologists, cardiac surgeons, specialist physicians and other medical practitioners, as well as basic scientists, technologists, nurses and health professionals, who all share a passion for this field. Attendees will not only be able to present their work and learn about latest developments from colleagues and industry, but also build and re-establish relationships with collaborators in a multi-disciplinary environment. The latest communication software and technologies will be used to maximise the conference experience for the attendees, and to offer the best value proposition for industry exhibitors and representatives. Many thanks to our partners who help to make this event possible, and to all our members for their loyal support.”

Dr Hellmuth Weich, Division of Cardiology Stellenbosch University, Committee Member SA Heart said, “COVID-19 has had an almost exclusively negative impact on the world…almost, because with the congress being virtual, we were able to attract an international faculty unimaginable in the past.”

Professor Anton Doubell, Head: Division of Cardiology Stellenbosch University, Committee Member SA Heart said, “This year’s SA Heart® congress is like the Olympics, only the best are participating.”