IN Fiji, there are about 60 deaths a year because of rheumatic heart disease (RHD), something which has been labelled a "crisis" by the Health and Education ministries and their new partner, the Rotary Club of Suva.
The Pacific region, including Fiji, has some of the highest rates of the disease globally, a report drafted by Health Ministry chief pediatrician Dr Joseph Kado revealed.
He said the prevalence of RHD in Fiji in children between five and 14 years was 35.4 per 1000 people.
"That means that 3.5 per cent of children have definite or probable RHD," said Dr Kado's report.
"RHD is the most common cause of heart disease in children and young adults.
"It often starts mild, but can develop into a life-threatening illness."
Dr Kado said RHD was a chronic disease of the heart valves that followed an episode of acute rheumatic fever.
"Acute rheumatic fever occurs when the body produces a strong immune response to a throat infection caused by a particular type of bacteria — Group A Streptococcus (strep throat)."
Dr Kado said most strep throat infections would get better without developing further into rheumatic fever, but in some cases where it was left untreated, the throat infection could cause the heart, joints, brain and skin to become inflamed and swollen.
"If this inflammation causes scarring to the heart valves, the affected person can develop RHD."