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Rheumatic Heart Disease Australia

RHD Resouces

Research finds Top End has the highest rates of RHD in Australia

The prevalence of rheumatic heart disease (RHD) in Indigenous children living in the Top End is two to three times higher than that of children living in three other remote regions, and this may be related to poorer socioeconomic conditions.

The research led by Dr Kathryn Roberts, a paediatrician at the Menzies School of Health Research found:

  • Over 99% of children have healthy hearts 
  • Less than one in 100 children have RHD
  • More children in remote communities had RHD than children in Darwin and Cairns.

“The most striking difference is the higher prevalence of definite RHD in children from the Top End of the NT”, Roberts et al wrote.

The researchers also suggested that socioeconomic factors may influence the prevalence of RHD.

“Given that poverty-related factors, such as overcrowded housing, are known to be significant risk factors for acute rheumatic fever and RHD, extreme disadvantage would provide a plausible explanation for the higher prevalence of RHD in the Top End.”

Researchers hope the findings will help health policy makers decide if screening for RHD in well children who are at risk (including Indigenous children) is worthwhile.

Media coverage of the research to date has included the following:

The research findings came from a study called gECHO (getting Every Child’s Heart Okay), which was carried out across 32 communities in the north of Australia between 2008 and 2010.  gECHO involved performing a heart ultrasound, called an echocardiogram (or ‘echo’), on around 5000 children aged 5-14 years.

Children found to have RHD or any other possible heart abnormality were referred to local health care services.

Portable echocardiography was performed on high-risk Indigenous children living in remote communities of northern and central Australia.

A comparison group of low-risk, predominantly Caucasian children living in Darwin and Cairns was also screened. A subset of high-risk children from the NT also had cardiac auscultation performed by a doctor and a nurse.

gECHO aimed to establish the prevalence of Rheumatic Heart Disease (RHD) in high-risk Indigenous Australian children and to compare the findings with children at low-risk for RHD; and to determine the accuracy of cardiac auscultation in detecting echocardiographically-confirmed RHD.