Aboriginal Community
In a remote area in north-west Queensland Australia, there have been reported deaths of members of the Aboriginal community. An illness known as rheumatic heart disease (RHD) is claiming the lives of those living in this small population. RHD is an entirely preventable disease that rarely exists among Australians.

Who Contracts the Disease?

Rheumatic heart disease develops as a fever called rheumatic fever that worsens over time. Statistically, young children are most at risk of contracting the disease. Aboriginal cultural consultant Janelle Speed addressed the prevalence of the disease among aboriginals in the Australian Journal of General Practice: “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia have the world’s highest rates of acute rheumatic fever [ARF]/RHD.”

Symptoms of RHD

An untreated strep throat infection can lead to acute rheumatic fever and can cause irreparable damage to the major cardiac valves causing rheumatic heart disease. Of the more than 5,000 people living with RHD in Australia, 71% are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Without the proper diagnoses and treatment, 8,667 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people could develop ARF/RHD by 2031. This could lead to 1,370 severe cases of RHD and 663 to die.

Curing Rheumatic Heart Disease

The Federal Government hopes to eliminate RHD by 2030, however, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare figures show the disease continues to increase in prevalence. People with RHD normally require ongoing medical care, antibiotic treatment and possibly cardiac surgery. By 2031, it will cost an estimated $273.4 million in medical care to treat the disease.

RHD Research

The End Rheumatic Heart Disease Centre of Research Excellence began its journey in 2014 to provide a robust plan to eradicate RHD in Australia.

Recently, The Queensland Health Minister, Yvette D’Ath, allocated $7.3 million to further research and planning for RHD. Former Federal Health Minister, Greg Hunt, issued a statement claiming, “Working in genuine partnership through shared decision-making and co-design with the Aboriginal community-controlled sector is critical and is the foundation of the new approach to the Government’s Rheumatic Fever Strategy commencing this year [2021–22].”

Hunt also said that the country will spend $25 million on supporting strategies to prevent RHD including an additional $12 million for activities aimed at preventing RHD throughout the country. Moreover, the University of Western Australia is working to develop a Strep A vaccine that will hopefully “accelerate the elimination of RHD.”


In order to prevent the progression of ARF into RHD, it is necessary to improve the early and accurate diagnosis of ARF and the delivery of secondary prophylaxis.

The collective experience of clinicians, Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organizations, government and non-government organizations, and research, means the knowledge now exists to permanently eliminate rheumatic heart disease in Australia.

– Kiara Finch
Photo: Picryl

Australia consistently tops the chart for having one of the highest life expectancies in the world. Death rates continue to decline and diseases continue to be eradicated. However, between 2014 – 15, over 11 million Australians (50 percent) suffered from a chronic disease: coronary heart disease. In past and present, this is one of the deadliest diseases in Australia.

According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s (AIHW) Australia’s Health 2016 report, there are several prevalent diseases in the country. The top diseases in Australia are coronary heart disease, followed by Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, cerebrovascular disease and lung cancer. The most common combination is cardiovascular disease coupled with arthritis. This combination affects 32 percent of the total population over the age of 65.

The Heart Foundation reported 45,392 deaths of Australian adults caused by coronary heart disease (CHD) in 2015. CHD occurs when the blood vessels that support blood flow to the heart muscle are blocked. Critical forms include a heart attack (blood vessel leading to the heart is suddenly and entirely blocked) and angina, a chronic condition that consists of short periods of chest pain when the heart has a temporarily limited blood supply. CHD kills one Australian every 12 minutes.

The AIHW monitors and analyzes the population’s health by measuring morbidity and mortality rates. Morbidity focuses on the rate of disease in a population. Mortality measures the frequency of death in a specific area. This number is calculated by taking the number of deaths (in the specified area) and dividing it by the total population. Utilizing and combining these techniques enables health policy makers and service planners to recognize the impact of various diseases and their corresponding risk factors.

Cancer contributes to a large portion of premature deaths caused by the top diseases in Australia. Due to its “diverse group of several hundred diseases,” the mortality and morbidity rates are high. The risk of being diagnosed with one of the various types of cancer before the age of 85 is one in two for males and one in three for females. Between 2014 – 2025, the projected number of deaths from all types of cancer is estimated to increase by 5,912 deaths among males and 4,515 among females.

In 2017, cancer exceeded coronary heart disease as the top disease in Australia. To combat increasing cancer cases, a team of scientists from North Tce institution is developing advanced methods of treatments and recovery. Additionally, the organization is looking at all different forms of the disease, varying from prostate cancer to leukemia. Changing hazardous lifestyle factors reduces the risk of cancer. Lincoln Size, Cancer Council chief executive officer, states that quitting smoking, reducing alcohol intake, using sunscreen outdoors, and exercising daily are important risk reducing factors.

Madison O’Connell

Photo: Flickr