“ With Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people being 122 times more likely to have RHD than other Australians, it has become a priority issue for us to confront. In some of our communities, the average age of death from RHD is just over 40 years of age.
These statistics alone speak to the urgency of increased comprehensive and collaborative action.
We want to put ourselves in the strongest position to end this disease over the coming decades.”
NACCHO Chief Executive Officer and Co-Chair of END RHD , Ms Patricia Turner AM
What causes Rheumatic Heart Disease (RHD)? see Part 2 below
Photo above: In February 2019, NACCHO also welcomed an announcement from the Hon Ken Wyatt AM, Minister for Indigenous Australians, that saw the Federal Government commit $35 million over three years to support the creation of a vaccine that could end RHD in Australia.
” You can find lots of #WorldHeartDay resources like printable factsheets & infographics, to help educate, inspire & motivate people in your community to keep their hearts healthy ”
The National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO) is marking World Heart Day by raising awareness of the high prevalence of rheumatic heart disease (RHD) in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
Over 4,500 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are living with the effects of acute rheumatic fever, the precursor to RHD, or have RHD. If action is not taken now it is estimated another 10,000 will have developed ARF or RHD by 2031.
NACCHO is a founding member of END RHD, an alliance of health, research and community organisations seeking to amplify efforts to end rheumatic heart disease in Australia through advocacy and engagement.
To affirm the continued effort by NACCHO and its members to eradicate this disease, NACCHO encourages all Australians to show their support by pledging their commitment to ending RHD on the END RHD website: https://endrhd.org.au/take-action/.
RHD can have devastating effects and is a form of permanent heart damage which results from a throat or skin infection caused by Strep A bacteria.
Although it is most commonly experienced by individuals living in developing countries, Australia has some of the highest rates of the disease in the world, occurring almost exclusively in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
Part 2 What causes Rheumatic Heart Disease (RHD)?
What causes Rheumatic Heart Disease (RHD)?
When a child gets a group A streptococcal infection of the throat (known as strep throat), their body’s immune system, in trying to fight that infection, produces antibodies. Sometimes these antibodies, in addition to killing the strep, can damage their heart. Acute rheumatic fever can occur following an untreated strep throat infection and can cause irreparable damage to the major cardiac valves, known as rheumatic heart disease.
How common is RHD?
RHD is considered a third-world disease yet Australia has some of the highest rates in the world. About 3-5 per cent of Aboriginal people living in remote and rural areas have the condition. Children aged between 5 and 14 years are most likely to get rheumatic fever.
What are the risk factors of RHD?
Certain living conditions make streptococcal infections more likely. Known risk factors include poverty, overcrowding and limited access to medical care. It is thought that the bacteria may also enter the body through skin cuts and abrasions – so skin sores in a child should never be ignored.
What are the symptoms?
Damaged heart valves found in RHD mean the heart cannot work normally. Symptoms include heart murmur, chest pain, breathlessness, and swelling of face and legs. RHD can result in heart failure and premature death.
How is it diagnosed?
Rheumatic fever is not a straightforward diagnosis – there’s no single test but rather a checklist of symptoms, including heart inflammation, fever, painful joints and skin rash. Early diagnosis and taking preventative antibiotics can stop it developing into RHD. People with RHD require ongoing medical care, antibiotic treatment and possibly cardiac surgery.
The only effective way to stop rheumatic fever recurring is to have monthly penicillin injections, for 10 years or until the patient has turned 21.