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One to watch: An urgent call for early detection of rheumatic heart disease and more equitable cardiovascular care

06 May 2024

Access to imaging technologies allows for early screening and intervention, positively impacting outcomes for patients with heart diseases. An urgent call for early screening in Rheumatic Heart Disease is a new film by the World Heart Federation and Philips Foundation. By telling the story of David, a young man from the Philippines who has been battling rheumatic heart disease (RHD) from an early age, the film sheds light on the pressing need to ensure people receive the effective care they need on time.

Around four in every five cardiovascular deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries where people often lack access to early detection and treatment [WHF World Heart Report 2023]. Without accessible care, early detections that could help avoid premature deaths often do not happen in time. In this context, RHD remains a pressing issue in underserved communities in the Asia-Pacific and globally.

Stemming from untreated streptococcal infections that lead to rheumatic fever, RHD can cause severe heart damage if not diagnosed early. Annually, more than 300,000 lives are lost to this preventable disease, most of them young people who have their entire lives ahead of them. These numbers not only highlight the disease’s severity but also the urgent need for effective screening and early intervention strategies.

Point-of-care ultrasound (POCUS), a handheld ultrasound, plays an important role in the diagnosis of RHD. The device has been shown to be more sensitive in diagnosing RHD than traditional cardiac screening with a stethoscope, typically used in most resource-stretched primary care settings, and eliminates delays in traditional diagnosis and treatment. Proper training that equips health workers with knowledge on effective use of the technology is critical for early diagnosis and treatment, potentially saving millions of lives. These are key focus areas of a partnership between Philips Foundation and the World Heart Federation in the Asia-Pacific, starting with the Philippines.

The film is a crucial watch for its powerful storytelling and the vital information it imparts. It calls for a global response to RHD, thus contributing to more equitable cardiovascular care for all. It advocates for increased awareness on the need for better access to healthcare technologies, and the expansion of educational programs and greater support for healthcare workers where resources are limited.

Watch to understand, engage, and be moved to action.