In October 2016, East Timor Hearts Fund partnered with local and international health and research organisations to conduct landmark research into the incidence of rheumatic heart disease in Timor-Leste. Australian and local medical volunteers and health workers screened almost 1400 school students aged between five and 20, checking for heart damage and skin conditions known to be associated with rheumatic heart disease.
Rheumatic heart disease is a preventable, treatable form of cardiovascular disease that affects more than 32 million people worldwide, and claims 275,000 lives a year, according to the World Heart Federation. Episodes of acute rheumatic fever, caused by strep bacteria infections of the skin or throat, trigger it. This leads to inflammation that damages heart valves.
The study, which has been peer-reviewed and published in the Medical Journal of Australia, found that Timor-Leste has one of the world’s highest rates of rheumatic heart disease, with 35 borderline and definite cases per thousand.
The study also found significantly more girls than boys with rheumatic heart disease. Five per cent of girls screened (one in 20) had the condition, compared to two per cent of boys (one in 50).
The paper recommended action on all levels to reduce risks, ranging from underlying factors such as poverty and household crowding to improved treatment for the infections that cause rheumatic heart disease.
East Timor Hearts Fund is working to tackle this condition. We are raising our voice on a global stage and working with our friends in the Government of Timor-Leste and the international community to end the avoidable tragedy of rheumatic heart disease in Timor-Leste. We are also continuing to support the Timor-Leste Ministry of Health and the World Health Organisation in developing Timor-Leste’s first rheumatic heart disease action plan.