The international health community has thrown its weight behind Australian efforts to end Rheumatic Heart Disease. The End RHD campaign pushed long and hard by Telethon Kids Institute director Prof Jonathan Carapetis and Northern Territory Australian of the Year and paediatric cardiologist, Dr Bo Reményi, was backed by the World Health Assembly in Geneva.
More than 6000 people in Australia have RHD, which is a preventable disease, with most of those cases beginning in childhood. While other developed countries have been able to reduce the incidence of the disease, rates in Australia continue to rise, leading to premature death or life-long disability.
The Minister for Indigenous Health, Ken Wyatt, in March gathered indigenous leaders, medical leaders and health workers together to work out a roadmap to eradicate the disease.
“However while we await the development and funding of this roadmap, there are major short-term actions which need to be taken to stop more children from becoming infected, and to effectively manage those who become ill,” Dr Remenyi said.
“We shouldn’t have to perform open heart surgery on seven and eight-year-old children for a disease which could have been prevented if we simply had identified and treated their sore throats and skin sores.”
In the short term, action will include:
- Awareness campaigns, similar to public health campaigns for flu and childhood vaccinations
- More health workers on the ground, trained to identify, prevent and manage RHD, with every school in a community at high risk provided with a school nurse
- Hygiene education for families and communities, including schools where children are taught how to respond quickly if they have sore throats, aches or school sores
- Active case finding should be carried out on an annual basis in communities at risk.
“If we adopt these short-term measures in the 20 or 25 communities at greatest risk – with those communities’ support, we could dramatically reduce infection rates and prevent terrible suffering,” Dr Reményi said.