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Deadly Heart Trek tackles heart disease in NQ

Published:  25 October 2022

A trek to the heart of communities in North Queensland has further highlighted the burden of rheumatic heart disease among young First Nations people.

Townsville Hospital and Health Service paediatric and fetal cardiologist Dr Rosh Samuel was among a team of administrative staff, nurses, sonographers, First Nations cultural support team members, and cardiologists who took part in the Deadly Heart Trek.

Dr Samuel joined the health service earlier this year as its first paediatric cardiologist.

His work includes collaborating with local teams to provide cardiology services for children who have rheumatic heart disease. 

During the recent Deadly Heart Trek, almost 1000 children from Thursday Island, Bamaga, Injinoo, Mornington Island. and Doomadgee underwent screening for rheumatic heart disease over the course of two weeks.

“When we identified a young person with rheumatic heart disease, we would discuss with families and local primary health care staff what we found, what it meant, and what the
management options were,” Dr Samuel said.

“Working so closely with primary health care was a vital element of the trek."

Dr Samuel said North Queensland and northern Australia had some of the highest rates of rheumatic heart disease in the world.

“This is completely unacceptable for a developed nation like Australia, given this is a preventable disease which was more or less eradicated in non-Indigenous Australians many decades ago.

“At the more severe end of the spectrum, rheumatic heart disease can lead to open heart surgery, disability, and even death.”

As well as screening for disease, the Deadly Heart Trek provided important health promotion education.

“First Nations engagement team members did an inspiring job of liaising with community leaders and primary health care and assisting with cultural safety,” he said.

“Our First Nations trekkers were wonderful in helping to educate the kids on how to keep their hearts healthy and what to do if they had a sore throat or skin sores, important precursors to acute rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease.

“The response from community was overall very positive and the kids seemed to have a great time; it was a relaxed and fun environment with demonstrations, music, videos, singing and
dancing.” 

Dr Samuel said increased levels of awareness, education, resources, support, and funding are vitally needed to eradicate the disease.

“While it was a privilege to be invited into community and a part of the trek, the journey to end RHD in Australia is clearly far from over.”

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