NACCHO Aboriginal Health Rheumatic Heart Disease Q and A Darwin :6000 sufferers in Indigenous Australia – Why?


 “RHD is entirely preventable. It is a tragedy this disease is devastating Indigenous communities. So few in Australia are aware of its cost to lives, to livelihoods, to the whole community. In NZ it is even more problematic but there is a concerted and well funded government attack on it. This needs to happen in the Northern Territory and the rest of remote Australia”.

Adam El Gamel, Heart Surgeon

This is a national responsibility. Why are some Australians still dying of this preventable disease? The way to reduce is to improve living conditions, introduce better diagnosis and treatment of sore throats and skin infections. We cannot afford to let another decade pass as more Australians die from a disease of disadvantage. It is unacceptable”.

Professor Bart Currie

6000 sufferers in Indigenous Australia – Why?

Q&A Thursday 20 October 2016

6.00 – 8.00 pm NT Parliament House Mitchell St Darwin

Rheumatic Heart Disease (RHD) has been all but unknown in white Australia since 1930s but is taking a dreadful toll in Indigenous NT. More than 6000 Indigenous people are known to have Rheumatic Heart Disease, or its precursor Rheumatic Fever,in Australia, most of them children and many in the NT. There are likely many more.

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Far too few people are aware of this entirely preventable disease. Frequently children require open heart surgery which involves thousands of kilometres of travel to metropolitan (i.e. Southern) hospitals from the NT, and in the earlier stages, painful injections which must be given at least monthly – a huge job in very remote areas. Treatment is very costly and the effect of the disease on their education, employment, life style and future can be catastrophic. This link is a quick guide to RHD in Australia

Rheumatic Heart Disease Australia (RHDA) is holding a Q and A style event in Darwin. It will focus on the issues surrounding RHD: its causes and how to prevent the disease. Indigenous Territorians are 8 times more likely to be hospitalised and 20 times more likely to die from it than other Australians.

Facts about Acute Rheumatic Fever (ARF) and Rheumatic Heart Disease (RHD)

  • ARF is an illness caused by an autoimmune response to a bacterial infection commonly called the strep bacterium.
  •  ARF affects the heart and joints and sometimes the brain. Hospitalisation is required for ARF.
  •  Damage to the heart valves may remain or even progress once the ARF has resolved. This damage is known as RHD.
  •  RHD is a permanent, chronic, and sometimes fatal disease.

How RHD affects Australians

  • ARF and RHD prevalence in remote Indigenous communities of Northern and Central Australia is among the highest reported in the world.
  •  Between 2007 and 2009, 897 deaths were attributed to RHD.
  •  Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are up to eight times more likely than other Australians to be hospitalised for ARF and RHD, and nearly 20 times as likely to die from the disease.
  •  Young people aged 5 – 15 years are at highest risk of a first episode of ARF. 58% of cases in the Northern Territory between 2005-2010 were in children aged 5-14. The established heart valve damage of RHD is most common in adolescents and young adults.

About RHDAustralia

  •  RHDAustralia is the National Coordination Unit supporting the control of rheumatic heart disease in Australia. Funded under the Australian Government’s Rheumatic Fever Strategy, RHDAustralia based at Menzies School of Health Research in Darwin.
  •  RHDAustralia’s mission is to prevent and reduce acute rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease in Australia through education, awareness raising, quality data collection and reporting systems and national collaboration.

The panel includes

  • RHD sufferers including Eddie Masina, and Kenya McAdams supported by their families
  •  Charlie King, the legendary ABC sports journalist in Darwin, an Indigenous man active in anti-violence campaigns and promoting health and safety in Indigenous communities
  •  Adam El Gamel, Heart surgeon internationally recognised as leading authority on rheumatic heart disease
  •  Professor Bart Currie, Director, Rheumatic Heart Disease Australia
  •  Marion Scrymgour, CEO Tiwi Islands Regional Council
  • Mark Munnich, legal educator and advocate, North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency (NAAJA) 
  •  Vicki Wade, leading Indigenous health expert and advocate

Marion Scrymgour who was central to the development of new health services in the NT and was the first female Aboriginal Minister in any government in Australia has been awarded an Honorary Doctorate by Sydney University for her commitment.


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