Rheumatic Heart Disease is a preventable cardiovascular condition that is rare in the U.S. but still causes hundreds of thousands of deaths each year in low-resource settings with weak health systems. It begins with a case of untreated strep throat.
A case of strep throat is no stranger to school-aged children in the United States. If treated with antibiotics, this common bacterial infection is relatively harmless and uncomplicated. But for people in countries like Tanzania, it’s not that simple. Cases of strep throat may be left untreated because basic health services cannot easily be reached and, over time, this spirals into an inflammatory reaction of the heart valves called acute rheumatic fever, which then induces rheumatic heart disease (RHD). RHD disproportionately affects young adults in the prime of their lives and can be especially fatal for pregnant women.
Renae Stafford, Touch’s Program Director of Academic and Clinical Services, co-authored an article published in March in Global Health that compiles information to help us better understand how to treat and prevent RHD in Tanzania and Uganda. The study found that nearly 2% of schoolchildren in Tanzania and Uganda are affected by RHD. Moreover, deaths from RHD persist even in the presence of care with up to 27% of patients dying in surgical wards. Poor infrastructure and medical supplies, insufficiently trained healthcare workers, and other weaknesses in the health system contributed to these poor outcomes. Additionally, a lack of patient knowledge, stigma, and a history of poor interaction with healthcare workers mean that patients often don’t seek care until it’s too late. Ultimately, the Global Heart article stresses that there remains a great need for high-quality, up-to-date data on RHD, especially within low-income countries like Tanzania.
At Touch Foundation, we are committed to working with our partners to protect people in Tanzania and internationally from dying from this preventable yet fatal cardiovascular condition. With the support of Medtronic Foundation, Touch is tackling RHD by ensuring the health system is equipped to prevent, diagnose, and treat patients, especially vulnerable children and pregnant women, by conducting health worker training, upgrading equipment at health facilities, and hosting strep screening days at schools. Read more about how we are addressing non-communicable diseases like RHD here.
Read the full article: Annesinah H. Moloi, Sumaya Mall, Mark E. Engel, Renae Stafford, Zhang Wan Zhu, Liesl J. Zühlke, David A. Watkins, The Health Systems Barriers and Facilitators for RHD Prevalence, Global Heart, Volume 12, Issue 1, 2017, Pages 5-15.e3, ISSN 2211-8160, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.gheart.2016.12.002.