Deadly Heart: RHD still impacts First Nations peoples

Monday, 27 February, 2023

Deadly Heart: RHD still impacts First Nations peoples

The Heart Foundation has released a documentary, Take Heart Deadly Heart (THDH), highlighting the devastating impact of rheumatic heart disease (RHD) on Australia’s First Nations peoples. It is hoped it will rally more public support to end the spread of the disease and protect future generations.

The Heart Foundation’s First Nations Heart Health team includes Professor Sandra Eades and Vicki Wade, who are both proud women of the Noongar Nation and two of Australia’s most respected and experienced First Nations health experts. Together, they are leading the development of the Heart Foundation’s First Nations Heart Health Strategy where the key focus will be supporting research and innovation to end RHD.

Wade co-produced THDH and said an important first step to ending RHD was to help Australians understand the problem so they could take action to support efforts to end it.

“Many Australians still do not know what RHD is. Older Australians may recall it being around in the 1950s but since then it has been eliminated in the mainstream population. The sad thing is that it is now almost entirely seen in First Nations communities in Australia, with some of the rates being the highest in the world,” Wade said.

“This is because it is rarely found in developed nations, and less so in urbanised areas where people have access to clean water and generally better living conditions.”

Eades said living standards in remote communities allowed infections of Streptococcus A — which cause RHD — to flourish.

“Repeated Strep A infection can cause the immune system to overreact, leading to acute rheumatic fever (ARF),” Eades said.

“This can then go on to injure the valves of the heart, progressing to the irreversible and life-threatening condition of rheumatic heart disease.

“There are over 9000 people in Australia with ARF or RHD and sadly nearly 80% of these are within Australia’s First Nations population.

“RHD causes permanent and irreversible damage which tragically shortens or reduces the quality of life of those affected. In the case of First Nations people, RHD mostly impacts women and children.”

Wade said the main takeaway for all Australians is that RHD is entirely preventable.

“By watching Take Heart Deadly Heart you’ll see just how preventable this terrible disease is, and how much better life could be for our First Nations peoples if we bring RHD to an end.”

Deadly Heart is available for catch-up via SBS On Demand.

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