by Alvine Kapitako Windhoek At least 36 percent of children in Namibia suffer from Rheumatic heart disease (RHD), an endemic and preventable disease caused by untreated sore throat, a senior health official said. RHD is the consequence of acute rheumatic fever which is caused by untreated streptococcus bacterial sore throat in children. The disease damages the heart valves so badly, the majority of patients require life-saving but expensive heart surgery. RHD is the single most important cause of acquired heart disease in young Namibians and 90 percent of Namibians with RHD die before 40 years old. The burden of RHD is so much that every week, the cardiac clinic takes in at least two patients for RHD operations, said Dr Christopher Hugo Hamman of the cardiac clinic at Windhoek Central hospital. He explained to journalists yesterday that there is a burden of RHD in Namibia, particularly among children. The Minister of Health and Social Services, Dr Bernard Haufiku who was also present said that in the north there are many children who suffer from the disease which starts off with a sore throat and if untreated can lead to heart complications. However, the disease can be treated with penicillin antibiotics if diagnosed early. At times, parents do not take serious the fact that if their child has a sore throat which is untreated it could lead to RHD. Also, medical personnel overlooked diagnosing the disease from a sore throat. “Many patients are overlooked. A sore throat can cause damage to the heart,” said Hamman. Also, the penicillin antibiotic was in the past short in supply at state facilities. However, that is not the case now, Hamman explained. “Both injectable penicillin and penicillin tablet are in stock. The challenge is to make sure the pipeline is never interrupted,” said Hamman. “Penicillin is one of the cheapest anti-biotics. We shouldn’t have a problem purchasing it,” said Haufiku. Hamman and a team at the cardiac unit, as part of the Namibian Registry for Rheumatic Heart Disease-initiated by the Ministry of Health and Social Services, are conducting research that has thus far studied 536 patients with RHD. This work led to the development of a national programme for the prevention and control of rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease in Namibia in 2014. Namibia has also made a strong impact in Africa having helped develop ‘ A roadmap towards the eradication of Rheumatic Heart disease in Africa’, adopted by African Union health ministers in Brazzaville in May last year. Furthermore, the team at Windhoek central hospital is presently involved in a Pan-African research project to investigate the genetics of rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart controls. “This study involves comparing DNA of 3000 people with the disease (RHD) with 3000 healthy ‘controls’ (people),” according to a press release from the National Progrmme for Prevention and Control of Rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease. The study is known as RHD GEN and is a global attempt to develop a vaccine against support from the Harold and Ethel Pupkewitz heart foundation. Haufiku volunteered to be a subject for a study on RHD, as part of the healthy people in order to see if some people have stronger genes.
New Era Reporter
2016-03-18 11:22:30 3 years ago