GASABO - In an effort to eliminate rheumatic heart disease (RHD) among children, medical officers will next week embark on a study targeting school children in 10 primary schools in Gasabo District.
The study was commissioned to collect data on the prevalence of rheumatic fever (RF) or RHD among primary school children and adolescents.
The chairman of the Rwandan Heart Foundation, Dr. Joseph Mucumbitsi, pointed out that the disease continues to affect children, yet it is 100 percent preventable.
“Together with a group of doctors from Boston, USA, we are going to screen 3,000 to 3,500 school children and adolescents in 10 schools randomly selected from the district,” noted Dr. Mucumbitsi, who heads the study.
A Boston-based surgical team periodically travels to King Faisal Hospital, Kigali, to perform surgical procedures and offer medical assistance in various fields.
“I would like to sensitise parents to encourage their children to join the study. We want to raise awareness on how RHD can be prevented and how it is treated.” Mucumbitsi, who is also the coordinator of the cardiac surgery program at King Faisal Hospital, said.
The doctors’ goal is to introduce a RF/RHD health education and prevention program and initiate the implementation of a patient management and data collection system for a national RF/RHD registry to facilitate a public health preventive effort through existing healthcare infrastructure.
They will also identify children of school-going age and adolescents with evidence of the disease, treat and follow up on identified cases through health centres.
The study targets school children aged from 6 to 15 years from primary 1- 6 and S1 to S3 from three suburban public schools, three urban private schools, and four rural public schools.
According to the Massachusetts General Hospital Heart Centre, which is part of Team Heart’s clinical expedition, Rwanda lacks a dedicated treatment program for heart rhythm disorders. Rwandans, who can afford it travel to Nigeria or Sudan for advanced treatment.
The World Heart Federation (WHF), a Geneva-based nongovernmental organisation that leads the global fight against heart disease and stroke, with a focus on low-and middle-income countries, says Africa is home to the largest number of people affected by RHD.
In sub-Saharan Africa, over a million children suffer from the disease, and few can get the medical care needed to survive and lead normal lives.
According to the WHF, the disease is often untraceable at its early stages. It begins with a common throat infection caused by streptococcus bacteria (strep throat), which in some children sets off an abnormal immune reaction that damages heart valves.
This reaction, called rheumatic fever, has symptoms that are vague and easily confused with other conditions.
People affected often look and feel healthy again once their outward symptoms are resolved, but with further streptococcal infections the rheumatic fever returns, worsening their heart damage.
It is often only detected when it is so advanced that only expensive and complicated heart surgery can save the person's life.