our ask

A community-led approach to ending RHD in Australia


Ending rheumatic heart disease requires a collaborative, comprehensive approach aimed at preventing Strep A infection in the first place, and providing better treatment for those already living with the disease. 

Resource an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander-led National Implementation Unit to coordinate rheumatic heart disease elimination efforts across Australia

The RHD National Implementation Unit will:

  • Work with government at the national, state, territory and local level to address the root environmental and social causes of rheumatic heart disease;
  • Deliver technical support to all stakeholders involved in work to end RHD – from communities to policymakers, clinicians, and health workers;
  • Support and fund communities across Australia to deliver culturally appropriate strategies to prevent RHD and ensure the best treatment for those already living with the disease;
  • Develop resources and guidelines to equip communities, schools and
    clinicians in their work to end RHD;
  • Act as the critical link between researchers and communities – setting
    research priorities and ensuring translation of evidence and  technological advances in acute rheumatic fever and RHD diagnosis and management; and
  • Monitor progress and re-evaluate strategies to ensure goals are achieved.

Fund communities to develop their own culturally appropriate programs to eliminate RHD

Ending RHD will only be successful if communities are empowered and supported to implement culturally relevant RHD elimination activities aligned to local priorities. There are currently at least 10 communities
taking action to address ARF and RHD, with varying levels of funding and support.

With a network of support coordinated by the RHD National
Implementation Unit, communities will be able to drive work to:
Increase awareness about Strep A and the symptoms of ARF so that

  • Are diagnosed and receive the right treatment as quickly as
    possible to prevent RHD developing; and
  • Already living with ARF or RHD have access to culturally safe health
    care within their community.
  • Resource peer support networks led by those living with or impacted by
    ARF or RHD; and
  • Evaluate demand for community-based echocardiography screening,
    ensuring comprehensive follow-up care is available for those diagnosed.

To support this community-driven work, the Commonwealth
Government should:

  • Provide ongoing investment to better support and grow the Aboriginal and
    Torres Strait Islander health workforce; and
  • Increase funding to community-based health care providers to ensure accessible, best quality care for those living with ARF and RHD.

Tackle the root causes of RHD by guaranteeing communities have access to healthy housing and built environments

This will involve cross-sector collaboration between national,
jurisdictional and local governments and communities to:

  • Increase new housing stock and ensure proactive repair and maintenance
    of existing housing to reduce overcrowding and improve living conditions;
  • Ensure access to essential hygiene infrastructure such as hot water, running
    showers and washing machines, so that people are able to achieve the
    Healthy Living Practices including washing hands, clothes and bodies; and
  • Embed environmental health in community-based health care.

Establish a comprehensive skin and throat program for high risk communities

The RHD National Implementation Unit will work with communities and their local service providers to:

  • Implement comprehensive Strep A outreach activities tailored to the
    local context;
  • Develop tools to better support health workers to diagnose and treat
    Strep A skin and throat infections, the precursor to ARF and RHD; and
  • Explore strategies aimed at making it easier for people in high risk
    communities to have their skin sores and sore throats checked. For
    example: flexible appointment systems and after-hours services; schoolbased screening programs; and offering transport to and from clinics.

Improve the health and wellbeing of those living with ARF and RHD

  • Communities, researchers, service providers and the RHD National Implementation Unit will together work to:
  • Make sure those already living with ARF and RHD have access to clear support pathways throughout their journey. This is especially important for transitional periods such as adolescence to adulthood and for women planning pregnancies;
  • Resource positions for regional coordinators to monitor and improve treatment and health promotion activities in high risk communities; and
  • Ensure people who require specialist treatment off country receive culturally safe treatment in mainstream services.