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Governments hold long-overdue meeting on reducing early death from rheumatic heart disease

Today, at the World Health Assembly, top health officials from New Zealand, South Africa, Australia, Fiji and Rwanda met to discuss the vital need for countries to integrate rheumatic fever (RF) and rheumatic heart disease (RHD) prevention and control into national action plans.

"RHD was nearly eradicated in wealthy populations at least 50 years ago but today it remains as a disease of poverty that kills children, adolescents and young people in their most productive years, said Dr K. Srinath Reddy, President of the World Heart Federation.

RHD is estimated to kill more than one person every two minutes and it remains the most common cardiovascular disease in people aged younger than 25 years. It is a neglected NCD that is predominately associated with poverty the prevalence of RHD is more than five times higher in Sub-Saharan Africa and three times higher in the Pacific and Indigenous populations of New Zealand and Australia than among those who live in wealthy populations, in children aged 514 years. Moreover, in the resource-poor settings where RHD is more prevalent, up to 12.5 per cent of people that develop the disease could be dying each year. But, RHD is preventable through low-cost interventions delivered through basic health services.

"RHD control programmes are cost-effective," continued Dr Reddy. "Today, only a handful of countries, or regions within countries, have adopted these programmes. As member states consider the first Global Action Plan on non-communicable diseases (NCDs), we urge countries where RHD is prevalent to consider integrating plans to tackle this devastating disease in national NCD plans."

Ending Neglect of RHD: The World Heart Federation 25x25<25 Campaign

The World Heart Federation 25x25 campaign calls for multi-sectorial action to reduce premature CVD mortality by 25 percent by 2025. To ensure the relevance of this goal to the world's most marginalized and vulnerable populations where RHD is common, the World Heart Federation pursues the goal of reducing RHD mortality by 25 percent for individuals under the age of 25.

To achieve this objective, four key strategies have been identified:

1. Anchor comprehensive register-based RHD control programmes in national health plans.

2. Ensure universal access to benzathine penicillin G.

3. Improve health-worker training on detection and management of RHD.

4. Encourage the development of a group A β-haemolytic streptococcal vaccine.

About RHD

RHD is caused by RF, an abnormal autoimmune reaction to a throat infection with Group A Streptococcus (strep throat). Although RF is a reaction to a communicable disease, RHD is a chronic, non-communicable condition. If left untreated RHD can cause severe heart valve damage and lead to stroke, congestive heart failure and death

RHD makes pregnancy unsafe and kills or debilitates young people in their most productive years. Those with advanced RHD depend for survival on costly and complicated medical care that is unavailable and unaffordable for most of those who have the disease. Where provided, these services drain precious health resources needed for other health problems.

Treating strep throat with antibiotics can prevent rheumatic fever. Moreover, regular antibiotics (usually by injections every three to four weeks) can prevent patients with RF from contracting further strep infections and causing progression of valve damage.

Conservative estimates indicate that there are between 15.6 and 19.6 million existing cases of RHD and its been estimated that there are around 252,000 new cases each year. Moreover, an estimated 233,000 to 468,164 individuals die from RHD each year, and hundreds of thousands of people are disabled by this disease and its long-term complications.


Contact: Charanjit Jagait
World Heart Federation

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