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First Nations heart health



Barunga Festival

The Barunga Festival bears witness to the proud preservation of ancient rites, customs and skills, and invites engagement with us in the broader community, offering a platform for the passing on of knowledge and experience. It was a valued opportunity to listen and learn from the strong and proud voices of the community.

The Heart Foundation acknowledges that First Nations and community leadership is fundamental in our efforts to #endrhd and we were proud to partner with Aboriginal Investment Group and Sunrise Health Service Aboriginal Corporation at the Bagala Remote Community Laundry to offer skin and heart health checks, education and Jump Rope for Heart sessions at the festival. 

Hon Linda Burney MP with others including Heart Foundation CEO David Lloyd

Barunga Festival 2023

Group of First Nations kids and adults in traditional dance at Barunga Festival 2023

Barunga Festival 2023

Group of people in red Heart Foundation t-shirts in front of tent at Barunga Festival 2023

Barunga Festival 2023

Deadly Heart Trek

The Heart Foundation team, including First Nations Heart Health Lead, Vicki Wade, National Manager Equity, Le Smith, and NT Advisory Board member Kellie Kerin, supported the 2023 Deadly Heart Trek, joining a team of cultural guides, health workers, cardiologists, skin doctors and educators travelling to 22 communities over two weeks across Central Australia and APY Lands.

Working alongside local clinics, the team trekked to communities to listen, learn, educate, diagnose and treat First Nations people in communities affected by acute rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease.

Take Heart: Deadly Heart is an award-winning film that highlights the devastating effects RHD has on communities and people across Australia and advocates for change.

Heart Foundation's First Nations heart health team Vickie Wade and Le Smith, and Kellie Kerin

Vicki Wade, First Nations Heart Health Lead, co-produced the film. Its aim is to engage government to fund the community-led services that prevent rheumatic heart disease and keep families strong and together.

It was an incredible privilege to attend the Barunga Festival 2023 and be so warmly welcomed by the Traditional Owners of the Bagala Clan of the Jaowyn People. The Heart Foundation pays deep respect and gratitude for the ongoing custodianship of country and culture.

National RHD Forum, Adelaide 2023

Logos:  Heart Foundation, The Snow Foundation, Telethon Kids Institute

The Heart Foundation, with generous support from the Telethon Kids Institute and the Snow Foundation, lead a national RHD forum bringing together Australian RHD stakeholders and partners prior to the World Congress on Rheumatic Heart Disease (WCRHD) in Abu Dhabi. This national forum aimed to support a strong, coordinated, and informed Australian representation and contribution to the WCRHD.  

This was an opportunity to bring together diverse groups of RHD experts, including those with lived experience of RHD and stakeholders into the room to hold important discussions, collectively network, strengthen critical partnerships and collaborations and advance science and best practices in the prevention and management of RHD. The lived experience component was a highlight of this forum and featured in the World Congress on RHD. Some of the champions from the Champions4Change program who have the lived experience of RHD attended this forum and were able to share their stories, experiences with health care systems, and contribute to important ongoing RHD discussions. It is critical to recognise and support the importance of understanding the experiences of individuals, families and communities impacted by RHD as well as acknowledging the importance of First Nations knowledges, perspectives and experiences to improve the diagnosis, treatment and management of RHD and enhance outcomes.

The forum was a great success and was well attended by a range of diverse groups of people. Planning is already underway for the 2024 National Forum on RHD. Watch this space!

World Congress in Abu Dhabi 2023

Success stories: Champions in action

Champions4Change is a culturally safe program lead by the Heart Foundation’s First Nation Health Team. Designed for those living with acute rheumatic fever (ARF) and rheumatic heart disease (RHD), this program aims to empower our First Nations leaders. Encouraging our Champions to ‘keep their fire burning’ and share their lived experiences to help raise awareness, educate, inform and inspire action to end RHD.

Despite having been eliminated in the non-Indigenous Australian population, RHD continues to pose a very real threat. Two First Nations people (mainly children and young adults) die every week from this disease. RHD is totally preventable if treated yet, we are still seeing this affect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities at some of the highest rates in the world.

In November 2023, two of our very own Champions4Change, Kenya McAdam and Henrique Thomas received the opportunity to attend the first ever World Congress on Rheumatic Heart Disease.

Hosted by the World Heart Federation and held in Abu Dhabi, Kenya and Henrique travelled 9,244km across the world to bravely open up about their stories and journey as those living with the experience of RHD, in hopes of improving the awareness of this disease and the shocking impact it has on our young First Nations people.

This Congress ran over a total of 3 days, featuring a diverse array of topics touching on RHD research, prevention and treatment.

Both champions were able to make a case highlighting the support needed to help community-led efforts to end RHD during their discussion on a panel led by Vicki Wade, the Heart Foundation’s First Nation Lead. With a total of 7 people with lived experience of RHD attending the Congress, this panel supported the voices of RHD and their expertise.

The World Heart Federation organised a lounge for champions from across the world to come together. This lounge quickly turned into the heart of the congress as it became a safe place for all those with the lived experience to share, care and inspire.

First Nations Leadership is vital across many levels, community leadership and empowerment are essential for eliminating RHD. Our champions walked away from this experience with their voices acknowledged, highly regarded and valued.

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Last updated16 February 2024