April 2019

$33 million promise for critical community-led prevention and treatment of Rheumatic Heart Disease is a great start.

Groups working to end Rheumatic Heart Disease (RHD) in Australia, including The Snow Foundation, are celebrating the news that Opposition Leader Bill Shorten made a $33 million funding commitment for community-led action on RHD.

Snow Foundation partner, Dr Bo Reményi the 2018 Northern Territory Australian of the Year and the Northern Territory’s only paediatric cardiologist, says this is a “significant and magnificent start” to end a disease which is crippling and killing Australian children. She called the commitment a life-saving intervention for a disease which is almost entirely preventable and recognised that it’s an opportunity for other parties to match this commitment to end RHD.

“RHD is the greatest cause of cardiovascular inequality for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in this country – if we can’t end RHD we cannot close the gap in Indigenous and Non-Indigenous health,” said Dr Reményi. “RHD is almost entirely preventable, but Australia has some of the highest rates of the disease in the world, almost exclusively in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.”

Dr Reményi said she had identified children as young as three in the Northern Territory who had advanced RHD, requiring surgery and a lifetime of medication.

“This funding commitment rightly invests in local community-led on-the-ground action now to prevent and eliminate RHD. Over time, we will need more funding to end RHD – this will take many years and lots more action – but a national commitment to on-the-ground action now is what we have been seeking and this is a great start,” Dr Reményi said.

Throughout Australia, about 6000 people are known to have RHD or its precursor, acute rheumatic fever (ARF), and rates are increasing – an extra 300 people, mostly children, develop the disease each year. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are 64 times more likely than non-Indigenous people to develop rheumatic heart disease, and nearly 20 times as likely to die from it. About 100 people, mainly Indigenous children or adolescents, die from RHD every year.

RHD Australia Senior Cultural Advisor, Vicki Wade, today also welcomed the announcement of additional funding to prevent and eliminate RHD.

“RHD is the best marker for disadvantage between communities, and if we can prevent RHD, we can prevent a lot of other diseases. The social determinants of ARF and RHD are common with many other health problems in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, including kidney, skin, eye, ear and respiratory diseases,” Ms Wade said. “Our mob want to see action and change now. We need our communities to take charge now to prevent this unacceptable disease. Change needs to come from our people, our choices, our voices,” she said.

Georgina Byron, CEO of The Snow Foundation, today said the commitment of funding marked a significant step in the quest to end RHD.

“We are united with END RHD in aiming to ensure that no child born in Australia from this day forward should die of RHD or its complications,” Ms Byron said. “We welcome this funding as a solid start to Australia’s commitment in the World Health Assembly in May last year to prevent and eliminate RHD.”

“This additional funding for on-the-ground action in communities is a great start while longer-term strategies come to fruition. We also welcome the recent commitment by government of $35 million to funding the development of a vaccine to prevent the disease in years to come, and we are pleased this on-the-ground commitment by Labor has been made so new cases can be prevented, and existing cases can be treated more quickly.”