NACCHO Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Health News: Heart Week 2023 – learn about ARF and RHD

feature tile NACCHO generated ARF and RHD logo; text 'For Heart Week 2023 NACCHO is encouraging everyone to learn more about ARF and RHD'

The NACCHO Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health News is platform we use to showcase the important work being done in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health focusing on the work of NACCHO, NACCHO members and NACCHO affiliates.

We also share a curated selection of news stories that are of likely interest to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health sector, broadly.

Heart Week 2023 – learn about ARF and RHD

Acute rheumatic fever (ARF) and rheumatic heart disease (RHD) are entirely preventable conditions, and only occur in high income countries when the social and cultural determinants of health are not equitably addressed.

In 2022, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare reported the number of cases of ARF and RHD increased nationally from 2016–2020, with 92% of ARF diagnoses occurring in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and diagnoses of RHD 15 times more likely to occur than for non-Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the same period. This is why it’s so important the ACCHO sector is co-designing approaches to prevent and manage ARF and RHD in Australia.

ARF occurs as an immunological response to a Group A Streptococcal (GAS) infection (be it of the skin or throat).

People affected by ARF usually present with a range of non-specific symptoms and signs, including fever, painful and tender joints, rash, chest pain, shortness of breath, tiredness, and jerky body movements. These symptoms can be easy to ignore so please check in with a health professional if you are worried. Ask the question: could this be ARF?

RHD occurs when the heart valves are damaged by recurrent, untreated episodes of ARF. Whilst effective treatments exist to prevent people diagnosed with ARF from developing RHD, ARF is too often misdiagnosed and mismanaged in Australia. Once the heart valves are damaged, there is no cure. However high quality, holistic care can prevent worsening of the valve damage and ensure people living with RHD can live a happy and healthy life.

For this year’s Heart Week, we are encouraging everyone to learn more about ARF and RHD.

If you have a sore throat or skin sores, visit the clinic and get it checked out.

Have a yarn with your health worker about getting a 715 health check. This could help diagnose ARF and RHD early and ensure you get the right treatment.

If you get ARF or RHD, regular antibiotics (injections or oral) can protect your heart valves and prevent worsening damage.

If you are pregnant or planning to start a family, have a yarn with your GP to check your heart for RHD as early as possible to plan for a safe pregnancy. If you have RHD, it will be important to get regular check-ups during pregnancy to protect your heart from further damage.

For further information, contact the NACCHO RHD team by email here.

tile text 'Heart Week 2023'

Scale of preventable blindness in Australia is massive

Urgent action is required to address the systemic barriers deterring access to eye health care in Australia, write Dr Gifar Hassan and Clinical Professor Leanne Rowe AM. For many years, the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Ophthalmologists (RANZCO) and other eye health organisations have highlighted the massive scale of preventable blindness in Australia, including increasing diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma, cataracts, macular degeneration, and uncorrected refractive error.

After three years of reduced patient access to preventive eye care and elective eye surgery due to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, medical practitioners at the front line of health care are increasingly recognising the fire impact of undiagnosed and untreated visual impairment. This includes falls, motor vehicle and other accidents and injuries, medication error, deterioration of other comorbid disorders due to inactivity, mental health problems, loss of independence and prolonged hospitalisation to name a few.

Based on what is known about the increasing prevalence of diabetes and diabetic retinopathy, cataracts, glaucoma and macular degeneration in our aging population, it is likely millions of Australians are missing out on routine eye screening, follow-up and treatment, particularly in regional and rural areas. As many disadvantaged people continue to have inadequate access to health care as we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, it is also impossible to estimate the true extent of undiagnosed eye disease in vulnerable groups, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, ethnic minorities, and those with lower incomes.

To view the InSight article Medicare limitations causing preventable blindness in full click here.

ATSI man having eye test

Image source: Flinders University News webpage.

Attorneys General meeting to address justice reform

Last Friday (28 April 2023) the Standing Council of Attorneys General (SCAG), made up of Commonwealth Attorney General Mark Dreyfus and the AGs from each state and territory, met in Darwin. All Attorneys General present agreed “significant and transformational criminal justice reform” is needed to correct the ongoing impacts of the current system on First Nations people.

Currently, targets 10 and 11 of the National Agreement on Closing the Gap, to reduce the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in custody, “is going backwards”, according to the Council. At the adoption of the agreement in mid-2020, after more than a decade of steps towards it, the most recent set of Australian Bureau of Statistics data recorded an imprisonment rate of 2.2% among all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults. In the most recent set of data, from the December 2022 quarter, the number had risen to close to 2.4%. In June 2022, more than 32% of all prisoners in the country were Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

The Council acknowledged the “significant role” they play in reducing the rate of First Nations adults in custody by at least 15% by 2031. “All Attorneys-General acknowledged the need to do better, collectively, to improve justice outcomes for First Nations Australians,” the SCAG said in a statement. Central to realising targets set out by the National Agreement on Closing the Gap, and a key pillar to incorporating principles and shared decision-making, is the Justice Policy Partnership (JJP) body made up of Coalition of Peaks (Indigenous peak bodies), coalition-appointed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander experts, and Australian, state and territory governments.

To view the National Indigenous Times article Attorneys General meeting flags reforms to reduce Indigenous incarceration rate, raising age of criminal responsibility in full click here.

ATSI man's arms / hands though jail bars

Image source: Law Society Journal Online.

Measure aims to protect against heart disease

The Albanese Government is acting to protect Australians against our country’s biggest killer – heart disease. As part of the 2023–24 Budget, the Albanese Government will extend the Medicare rebate (items 177 and 699) for heart health assessments until 30 June 2025. Each day 438 Australians are hospitalised with coronary heart disease. Heart disease is responsible for almost 1 in 10 deaths and for 6% of Australia’s total disease burden. Many Australians don’t know they are at risk of heart disease, as some factors – such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol – might not be noticeable without a medical assessment.

An assessment of a patient’s heart health with a general practitioner (GP) will help to identify the risk of heart attack or stroke in those patients who haven’t previously been diagnosed with heart disease. The Check takes less than 30 minutes with a GP and is the nation’s best tool for preventing heart disease. GPs can then work with their patients to make changes to their lifestyle or prescribe medicines to lower any identified risk of heart disease.

The items will also be amended to remove restrictions preventing First Nations people from claiming a heart health assessment within 12 months of an annual health check for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, supporting the earlier diagnosis and treatment of cardiovascular disease in First Nations people.

To view Minister Butler’s media release Protecting Australians against heart disease in full click here.

red heart stress toy sitting on trace of heart rate, stethoscope

Photo: Krisanapong Detraphiphat – Getty Images. Image source: Prevention website.

Rural and remote deserve health reform that works

Services for Australian Rural and Remote Allied Health (SARRAH) has welcomed the focus National Cabinet is giving to system-wide health reform. It was reinforced at their meeting of Friday 28 April and demonstrated by the announcement of $2.2b in extra Commonwealth funding to improve access health care in the community when and where people need it. Minister for Health and Aged Care, the Hon Mark Butler MP, elaborated on the urgency for action and the proposed direction of reform in his address to the National Press Club on Tuesday 2 May, revealing more can be expected when the Federal Budget is announced next week.

Reforming our health system is a priority long overdue. Our system faces mounting pressures. Ministers acknowledge that key components are no longer fit-for-purpose, and this is putting the entire system at risk. Existing gaps in access and service capacity – long evident and unresolved – must be addressed.

On 4 April 2023, SARRAH convened a roundtable meeting of rural and remote health care providers and workforce organisations. Two things framed our discussion:

1. Chronic and continuing service and workforce shortages in rural and remote Australia – which contribute to, and correlate closely with, poor health and wellbeing outcomes across communities.

2. Current system and policy reform agendas – at the inter-government, intra-government and cross-sector levels which have the potential to enable more equitable, effective and sustainable health and care systems than have been achieved through the policy and delivery frameworks operating over recent decades.

To view the SARRAH media release People living in rural and remote Australia deserve primary health reform that works for them in full click here.

bitumen road through outback Australia

Image source: The Australian Prevention Partnership Centre website.

Sector Jobs

Sector Jobs – you can see sector job listings on the NACCHO website here.

Advertising Jobs – to advertise a job vacancy click here to go to the NACCHO website Current job listings webpage. Scroll down to the bottom of the page to find a Post A Job form. You can complete this form with your job vacancy details – it will then be approved for posting and go live on the NACCHO website.

Save the Date – NACCHO Members’ Conference 2023

𝗬𝗼𝘂𝘁𝗵 𝗖𝗼𝗻𝗳𝗲𝗿𝗲𝗻𝗰𝗲: Monday 𝟮𝟯 𝗢𝗰𝘁𝗼𝗯𝗲𝗿
𝗔𝗚𝗠: Tuesday 𝟮𝟰 𝗢𝗰𝘁𝗼𝗯𝗲𝗿
𝗠𝗲𝗺𝗯𝗲𝗿𝘀’ 𝗖𝗼𝗻𝗳𝗲𝗿𝗲𝗻𝗰𝗲: Wednesday 𝟮𝟱 October Thursday 𝟮𝟲 𝗢𝗰𝘁𝗼𝗯𝗲𝗿

This year’s Youth Conference, AGM and NACCHO Members’ Conference will be held at the Hyatt Regency, Noongar Boodjar (Perth).

The conference brings together people working in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health sector to network, showcase, learn and celebrate the impact of our work on improving health and wellbeing across the country.

Registrations and sponsorship opportunities will open soon.

For up-to-date information about the conference visit the NACCHO website here.

Or follow us on social media here.

If you have any queries, please contact the NACCHO Conference Team by email here.

save the date tile: NACCHO Members' Conference 2023 26-28 October, Noongar Boodjar (Perth); photo of Perth at night in the background; graphic gold Aboriginal dot wave

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