Awareness on RHD ‘lacking’

The "Heart to Heart" Rheumatic Fever Awareness campaign will run this month. Picture: SUPPLIED

The lack of awareness around rheumatic heart disease (RHD) and enabling access to care are challenges that Cure Kids Fiji RHD program are aiming to address.

Cure Kids RHD program Fiji lead Dr Jimaima Kailawadoko said there were around 60 RHD-related deaths yearly, and a high percentage were premature deaths that could have been prevented with early detection.

“We encourage people to take ownership of their health and we hope to empower them by raising awareness about the issue,” she said.

“If they have symptoms, bring themselves to a health facility and seek care and advise as early treatment is important.

“Sometimes it’s just a sore throat and a fever with the Group Strep A bacteria causing rheumatic fever, but it is disregarded as common flu without any realisation that it could damage the heart.”

She said with their first-degree relative screening where family members of RHD patients were screened, many were reluctant to show up.

“The bacteria ‘Strep A’ infection can spread from person to person and its spread is more likely if you’re in close contact.

“It’s a very small study right now where we are looking at our existing database within the Suva area.

“Because it’s their immediate relatives, they’re not necessarily sick people, but we want to see if family members are at a higher risk of developing RHD similar to studies done in New Zealand.”

She said families called for screening were not “too keen”.

“If we called around 100 people, maybe only 10 would show up for screening.”

She also said they expanded school screening to the Rewa subdivision with four trained nurses.

“A review done a few years back in primary school children found that most of the children detected with RHD were in Class (Year) 6, so that is part of why we screen that level.

“We continue to work with the Ministry of Health and Medical Services and are thankful for partners like NZ MFAT and Fiji Water Foundation (FWF) who continue to support this work.”

She said they planned to go out to Lautoka and Labasa to screen schoolchildren with more trained nurses in the future.

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