Rheumatic heart disease (RHD) affects 39 million people worldwide and is the most commonly acquired heart disease in people under the age of 25. A devastating disease that claims 291,000 lives every year, it mostly affects children and adolescents in low-resource settings where poverty is widespread and access to health services is limited. Yet, RHD is fully preventable and despite having been eradicated in high income countries, RHD continues to affect some of the world’s poorest and most marginalised populations.
On Tuesday, May 11th, 2021 RHD Action partners Medtronic Foundation, the World Heart Federation (WHF) and Reach co-hosted a high-level event to highlight rheumatic heart disease (RHD) as the perfect example of health inequality in the world today.
The 90-minute event was moderated by Kavita Maharaj and included a special address by World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in which he commended the WHF, Reach and other partners who convened the event.
“Only through sustained advocacy and dialogue can we raise the profile and increase the investment needed and alleviate suffering from RHD." ~ Dr Ghebreyesus
Paurvi Bhatt, President of the Medtronic Foundation, introduced the event and gave a brief overview of Medtronic’s involvement in RHD which spans more than 10 years while emphasizing the enduring inequitable nature of the disease.
"RHD is at its essence a condition of inequity, of poverty - one that emerges because of environmental conditions which enable spread of strep that, when untreated, requires consistent focused care from household to community." ~ Ms Bhatt
This was followed by a screening of the award-winning short film: ‘The Beat of Change: RHD in Mozambique' which showcases the daily struggles of a young mother diagnosed with RHD in Mozambique in order to shed light on the difficulties, stigma and lack of awareness surrounding this devastating disease.
The remainder of the event saw several panelists, ranging from healthcare workers, policymakers, civil society representatives and people living with RHD, deliberate on the challenges and solutions to ending RHD once and for all.
Ms Buli Wainiqolo, a young person living with RHD and RHD advocate from Fiji spoke about her journey and encouraged others in her position to do so too. Prof Liesl Zühlke, President of Reach echoed Ms Bhatt’s sentiments in stating that "rheumatic heart disease is the only truly preventable cardiovascular disease of global proportions, it affects the most vulnerable in society and is linked with social determinants of health." While Prof Karen Sliwa, Dr Loise Nyanjau (Kenya) and Dr Alex Makupe (Zambia) all reflected on the achievements that have been made since the passing of World Health Assembly (WHA) resolution 71.14 in 2018.
The event also served to launch the RHD Action 5-year report which details the progress made in the fight against RHD and represents the culmination of successful collaboration between RHD Action partners.
Prof Fausto Pinto, President of the WHF closed the event with this message: "Encouraged by the progress and many achievements stemming from this collaboration, the World Heart Federation and Reach remain committed to paving the way to ending rheumatic heart disease."
If you missed it, the recorded event can be accessed here.