2016 AMA Report Card on Indigenous Health - A Call to Action to Prevent New Cases of Rheumatic Heart Disease in Indigenous Australia by 2031
The 2016 Report Card on Indigenous Health focuses on the enormous impact that Rheumatic Heart Disease (RHD) is having on Indigenous people in Australia. Every year, RHD kills people and devastates lives – particularly the lives of young Indigenous Australians. It causes strokes in teenagers, and requires children to undergo open heart surgery. Yet it starts with symptoms as innocuous as a sore throat, or a skin infection commonly known as ‘school sores’.
RHD is a disease of poverty, and it is preventable. Yet, Australia – one of the world’s wealthiest countries, has one of the highest rates of RHD in the world, almost exclusively localised to Indigenous communities. Indigenous Australians are 20 times more likely to die from RHD than their non-Indigenous peers – and, in some areas, such as in the Northern Territory, this rate rises to 55 times higher.
These high rates speak volumes about the fundamental underlying causes of RHD, particularly in remote areas - poverty, housing, education, and inadequate primary health care. The necessary knowledge to address RHD has been around for many decades, however action to date has been totally inadequate. RHD must be eradicated – it must no longer occur in Australia.
When it comes to stopping new cases of RHD, the number of potential cases is relatively small, tiny in fact. As the 2016 Report Card on Indigenous Health shows, it is only around one three hundredth of one per cent of the entire Australian population. This is well within Australia’s capacity to deal with.
The 2016 Report Card on Indigenous Health calls on Australian governments to prevent new cases of RHD reported among Indigenous Australians by 2031, and makes the following recommendations:
- Recommendation 1: For Australian governments to commit to a target to prevent new cases of RHD reported among Indigenous people by 2031. As a milestone to achieving this target, Australian governments should also commit to a sub-target that no child in Australia dies of ARF and its complications by 2025.
- Recommendation 2: To achieve the targets in Recommendation 1, Australian governments to work in partnership with Indigenous health bodies, experts, and key stakeholders to develop, fully fund, and implement a strategy to end RHD as a public health problem in Australia by 2031, comprising:
- an interim strategy (operational from 2016-2017 until 2021); and
- upon the 2020 receipt of the final report of the END RHD CRE, a comprehensive 10-year strategy (operational from 2021-2031).
The strategy should provide a firm foundation for an evidence-based, focussed, and cost-effective intergovernmental, multi-sectoral, and multidisciplinary national effort to prevent new cases of RHD reported among Indigenous people by 2031.