28 September, 2020

“We know what needs to be done, and we know it can be done,” NACCHO CEO Pat Turner’s message for World Heart Day

Rheumatic Heart Disease is the greatest cause of cardiovascular inequality for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia

The National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO) is marking this World Heart Day with a call to action  to oversee the implementation of the rheumatic heart disease (RHD) Endgame Strategy to end the high prevalence of RHD in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

On Thursday, 24 September, ‘RHD Endgame Strategy: the blueprint to eliminate rheumatic heart disease in Australia by 2031’ was launched by The Hon. Greg Hunt, MP, Minister for Health, alongside Professor Jonathan Carapetis AM, senior author of the Strategy and Ms Pat Turner AM, CEO of NACCHO.

Over 5,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are living with the effects of acute rheumatic fever, the precursor to RHD, or have RHD. If action is not taken now, it is estimated another 8,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children will develop ARF or RHD, in the next ten years.

Pat Turner announced, “98% of people who get RHD are our people. I call for that cycle of infection, disease, and tremendous sadness to end.  We know what needs to be done, and we know that it can be done. Our shared vision is that no child born in Australia from this day forward dies of RHD.”

“Rheumatic heart disease begins with a sore throat or a skin sore. For our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, these are common infections. They spread quickly in overcrowded houses, due to hardware problems and insufficient access to medical care. Without appropriate treatment they can cause an abnormal immune reaction in the heart, causing damage to the heart valves. The effects of that last a lifetime. A lifetime which, too often, is cut short. 

“We have a real opportunity to turn a corner, and to do this, we need to fund community led action in places with the highest risk of RHD. The implementation of a comprehensive strategy to end rheumatic heart disease (RHD) in Australia will help meet the new targets agreed under the National Agreement on Closing the Gap.

“This work is transformative. Not just because we can save lives and prevent the human suffering of RHD. That is important. But also, because a comprehensive, community-led approach to primary care and environmental health will help address so much more: ear disease, eye disease, childhood lung infections. RHD is just the start of this new way of working.”

Professor Jonathan Carapetis stated, “The Commonwealth Government has been open about their commitment to eliminating RHD within the next decade, so we hope that with the release of the Endgame, we now have the final piece of the puzzle needed to make this shared vision a reality”.

NACCHO is a founding member of END RHD, an alliance of health, research and community organisations seeking to amplify efforts to end rheumatic heart disease in Australia through advocacy and engagement.

Pictured above: Raychelle McKenzie and her mother Noeletta with Pat Turner at the Annual NACCHO Conference in 2019. Raychelle was diagnosed with RHD aged 8. Half her life she’s been living with RHD, getting monthly injections to keep her heart strong.

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