For Pat Turner, CEO of the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO) and co-chair of END RHD, the Endgame Strategy offers an opportunity to not only end a cycle of infection, disease and tremendous sadness caused by RHD, but tackle wider issues leading to a gap in outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
She said those working in the busy Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island primary healthcare sector rarely chose to focus on a single disease.
“But rheumatic heart disease sticks out. It’s the greatest cause of cardiovascular inequality for our people in this country. Non-indigenous people literally don’t get it. Ninety-eight per cent of people who get RHD are our people.
“We get it because of overcrowded housing, because despite our best efforts, showers don’t work, taps don’t run, and clothes don’t get washed. We get it because our clinics are overrun with demand and sometimes skin sores and sore throats go untreated. We get it because the diagnosis is missed and sometimes it is too late for treatment.
“All that needs to change.”
Ms Turner said NACCHO had prioritised RHD because it exemplified the gaps in prevention in the health system and in outcomes – and because tackling RHD would address so many other health outcomes with similar risk factors.
“The only possible solution is a comprehensive, Indigenous-led, primary healthcare-based strategy of both prevention and treatment,” Ms Turner said.
“This work is transformative, not just because we can save lives and prevent human suffering with rheumatic heart disease – that is important – but also because a comprehensive community-led approach to primary care and environmental health will help address so much more – ear disease, eye disease, childhood lung infections. RHD is just the start of this new way of working.
“We are delighted to have the Endgame Strategy behind us, to give us the technical foundation for all the work ahead. The next steps to put this into practice are a collective responsibility.