Closing the gap on indigenous heart health

News /
Rates of Rheumatic Heart Disease in indigenous communities remain significantly higher than in the rest of the Australian community and are a key factor in indigenous Australians' relatively poor heart health.
The disparity in heart health between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians represents a major national health challenge, the Heart Foundation has said.
Heart disease continues to be a significant contributor to the life expectancy and quality of life gap between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and non-indigenous Australians.
Heart Foundation National CEO Adjunct Professor John Kelly said that while there had been progress in other areas of health for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people – Rheumatic Heart Disease (RHD) continued to have a disproportionate effect on indigenous communities.

“Nowhere is the health gap more pronounced than in the occurrence and treatment of Rheumatic Heart Disease. The rates of rheumatic heart disease and Acute Rheumatic Fever (ARF) in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in Australia are among the highest in the world,” Adj Professor Kelly said.

Data from the Queensland, Northern Territory and West Australian Rheumatic Fever registers for the years 2010-2013 showed the incidence of ARF – the precursor to RHD - was 53:100,000 among indigenous Australians, compared to 1:100,000 among the non-indigenous population.

“Governments of all political stripes are to be commended for their efforts to close the overall health gap. However in light of this continued disparity in heart disease we call for a renewed push by Federal and State governments to eliminate Rheumatic Heart Disease in indigenous communities.

“Increased funding for the National Rheumatic Fever Strategy and RHD Australia would be a critical and highly necessary start. The work done by RHD Australia to date has seen important inroads made, especially in the detection and treatment of the disease. A national RHD registry and control program, enabling greater coordination between the states, would significantly strengthen such efforts.”

Other RHD facts that demonstrate the continuing gap include:

· Indigenous Australians are eight times more likely than non-indigenous Australians to be hospitalised for ARF/RHD;

· In 2010 the prevalence of RHD was 26 times greater among indigenous Australians than non-indigenous Australians.

RHD develops from chronic damage done to heart valves due to attacks of acute rheumatic fever, with children and young adults most susceptible.

“The disease is completely preventable and can be eliminated by addressing environmental factors that raise the risk of infection. These include overcrowded housing, along with greater investment in resources to improve diagnosis, treatment and access to culturally appropriate health care services,” Adj Professor Kelly said.

The Heart Foundation’s Lighthouse Project, jointly delivered with the Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association aims to deliver access to culturally appropriate health care services. The initiative’s third phase was recently given the green light thanks to an $8 million federal government grant.

“Effectively addressing this issue will take a comprehensive national approach. We’ve seen such commitments made in other countries and similar action in Australia is an urgent necessity,” Adj Professor Kelly said.

“The New Zealand government allocated $60 million over six years towards RHD control, with a population of only 4.5 million, and had a significant decline in the disease.”

The Heart Foundation’s 2017-2018 Budget Submission calls for a 10-year, $100-million commitment from the Federal Government.

The Heart Foundation is a member of the Close the Gap Steering Committee and is committed to supporting all efforts to improve health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.


Media Contact: Licardo Prince: 0411 310 997

Share this