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Rheumatic Heart Disease Australia

RHD Resouces

Raising awareness of rheumatic heart disease among the Aboriginal health workforce of South Australia

Two important events addressing rheumatic heart disease will be hosted for health professionals in Port Augusta this month.

SA Health and RHDAustralia invite Aboriginal Health Workers from across the region to attend a workshop on the 27th of September at Bungala Aboriginal Corporation in Pt Augusta. Workshop presenters will highlight best practice prevention, diagnosis and management of acute rheumatic fever (ARF) and rheumatic heart disease (RHD), and present a range of resources that have been developed to support families and communities. 

John Singer, Director of Nganampa Health Council and Chair of NACCHO says, “This is a great opportunity for Aboriginal Health Workers from across rural and remote SA to come together to learn from the experts, update their clinical skills, and share innovative work happening in their communities; Aboriginal Health Workers are vital links between the community and health care.”

A separate evening session is planned for General Medical Practitioners at the Royal Flying Doctor Service base on the 26th September. This will be led by Adelaide-based cardiologist Associate Professor Christopher Zeitz. Dr Zeitz will discuss current referral and notification systems, and highlight the key elements around diagnosis and management of ARF and RHD.

Jennifer Cottrell, SA Health coordinator of the SA RHD Control Program stated, “there are over 300 cases of ARF and RHD known to the SA RHD Register in South Australia, with 93% of these identifying as Aboriginal. We are excited to be offering these sessions in Port Augusta, allowing us to reach health workers from regional and remote South Australia with these important messages.”

Rebecca Slade, Manager of RHDAustralia, added the importance of working together to tackle ARF and RHD,

 “Australia has one of the highest rates of RHD in the world – we need a collaborative effort to put this to an end. We’re proud to be working with SA Health to ensure both health staff and families have the information and support they need to tackle this preventable disease."

Acute rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease 

ARF is an abnormal autoimmune response to throat or skin infection with group A streptococcus (Strep A). ARF can include sore joints, fever, and inflammation of the heart. RHD is damage to the heart valves that remains after one or more episodes of ARF during which the heart has been affected. The heart valves can remain stretched and/or scarred, and normal blood flow through damaged valves is interrupted. 

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are up to 122 times more likely to develop RHD, and between 20-25 times more likely to die as a result of RHD, than non-Indigenous Australians. Almost all ARF reported in Australia is among this population, with children most commonly affected. 

Rheumatic heart disease is a disease of poverty that can be prevented with improvements to housing, reduced crowding, and better access to health care.

Vicki Wade, Senior Cultural Advisor at RHDAustralia, says “This disease is running rampant in Aboriginal communities throughout Australia. It makes me feel sad to know that it is preventable. These workshops will concentrate on increasing the knowledge of rheumatic heart disease in the community. Aboriginal people across Australia need to know what the signs and symptoms of acute rheumatic fever are and they need to speak up to health workers and doctors when their child has a sore throat or skin sores. This disease is causing so much heartbreak in our communities we need to act now to stop it - we need to stop our little ones suffering.”

RHDAustralia Contact
Sean Rung | Communications Officer, RHDAustralia | T: 08 8946 8655 | M:045 0701 003 | sean.rung@menzies.edu.au