A potentially fatal disease considered rare in most developed countries is hitting Indigenous children at a record rate. New research shows they are three times more likely to suffer from rheumatic heart disease than non-Indigenous children.
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NITV News
7 Sep 2015 - 6:14 PM  UPDATED 7 Sep 2015 - 8:06 PM

TRANSCRIPT

Natalie Ahmat: A potentially fatal disease considered rare in most developed countries is hitting Indigenous children at a record rate. New research shows they are three times more likely to suffer from rheumatic heart disease than non-Indigenous children.

Figures show that across Northern Australia, the disease is as widespread as it is in developing nations, if not more so. NITV News journalist Nakari Thorpe reports.

"Children from the Top End of the Northern Territory had the highet rates of the four regions we screened"

Nakari Thorpe: Australia has one of the highest rates of rheumatic heart disease or RHD in the world and Indigenous people are most at risk.

And now, new research shows Indigenous children in the Top End are three times more likely to suffer from the disease, than others.

Dr Kathryn Roberts, paediatrician and researcher: Children from the Top End of the Northern Territory had the highet rates of the four regions we screened. So they were the Top End, Central Australia, the Kimberley in WQestern Australia and Far North Queensland.

So in the Top End we found one in every 65 Aboriginal children had evidence of mild heart damage on their ultrasound.

RHD causes damage to the heart as a result of a bacterial infection and increases the risk of heart failure and even early death.

"Because of that illness, as you can appreciate...she was off with a lot of stuff for at least 12 months"

Although described as a third-world condition and 100% preventable, RHD continues to affect many Australians - hitting our mob in remote communities the hardest.

Cherie McAdam, mother of RHD sufferer: My daughter was very active in sports at the time. And because of that illness, as you can appreciate, she was actually off, she was off with a lot of stuff for at least 12 months. It took about a year of their life to get back to a good healthy stage, you know.

The research found that RHD in remote Indigenous children is largely undetected, and it's recommended screening to eradicate the disease.

Nakari Thorpe, NITV News