Rheumatic Heart Disease (RHD) Project closed in Farafenni

On Saturday 22 October 2018 the RHD study team held a final dissemination meeting at the Farafenni Health Center with all local stakeholders and collaborators to mark the official end and celebrate the successful completion of the project. The meeting included several presentations with information on RHD (causes, symptoms, treatment and prevention) as well as preliminary results of the project.

The aim of the project was to determine the burden of RHD among children aged 5-19y and pregnant women in rural Gambia. RHD is a chronic condition of the heart due to untreated infections of the throat or the skin during childhood, and is the main cause of premature death and disability among children and young adults in Africa. Pregnant women with RHD are particularly at  risk of acute heart failure and death during or after delivery.

The team and participants

Between January and July 2018, more than 2,681 children and 571 pregnant women were examined and scanned by ultrasound to detect early signs of RHD. Preliminary results showed a high prevalence of the disease especially among adolescent and young pregnant women (3%). The study also showed that children with infections (throat or skin) are usually treated only with traditional (hot water with lime, spiritual ropes, etc.) or self-bought medicines at the local shop, and not taken to the health centre for medical attention. Therefore there is an urgent need to raise awareness among local communities, and primary health care staff, on the risk of RHD if bacterial infections (throat/skins) in children are not treated properly with antibiotics. Penicillin is highly effective and is the most affordable antibiotic available on the market. Self-treatment is strongly discouraged as the quality and dosage of antibiotics must be ascertain by a properly trained medical staff.

The meeting was well attended by representatives of the Farafenni General Hospital, the Regional Health Directorate, Ngayen Sanjal Health Center, as well as the entire teams of the HDSS (headed by Mr Pierre Gomez) and of the Reproductive and Child Health (RCH) (headed by Matron Haddy Sarr).

The study team acknowledged the support of the Farafenni community and leaders, as well as all collaborators who actively contributed to the successful completion of the study. All patients identified with heart diseases during the project have been registered and will be followed up at the Clinical Services of the MRC Unit Fajara.