The fight against rheumatic heart disease has continued into the new decade with experts collaborating to close the widening health gap.
Health experts from across Australia and New Zealand have teamed up with cultural advisors to address what they say is the greatest cardiovascular inequality between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.
They have devised new medical guidelines to place people with rheumatic heart disease, along with their families and communities, at the centre of care.
Vicki Wade is a Noongar woman from Western Australia with more than 30 years of experience working in cardiovascular health.
She is also RHDAustralia's senior cultural advisor and was central in ensuring the new guidelines provide health professionals with a more holistic model of care.
"By refocusing on people with this disease, this guideline acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples' unique culture, and the social, economic and environmental circumstances in which they live," Ms Wade said.
"The updated guideline identifies the systemic factors that drive disparities in best practice care delivery and offers culturally safe solutions.
"We have come a long way from the first edition, and this journey has culminated in an important balance between cultural and clinical competence."
According to research, 94 per cent of all new RHD cases between 2013 and 2017 were among Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander people.
The Northern Territory is home to some of the highest rates of rheumatic heart disease, with overall rates around three times that of other jurisdictions.
Life-threatening, but completely preventable, RHD typically starts with strep throat or skin sores, and if left untreated can cause significant damage to the heart.
Ms Wade says the new guideline, published today by RHDAustralia,m features case studies and the lived experiences of those with RHD to encourage health workers to look beyond the disease when treating patients.
"By providing case studies and including the lived experiences of those with ARF and RHD we place the value of culture side-by-side with the biomedical model of health and lay the groundwork for a culturally responsive health system."
Co-director of RHDAustralia Professor Anna Ralph said the new guidelines for preventing rheumatic heart disease recognise the disparity of cardiovascular health.
"Since the last edition of the guideline was released in 2012 there have been many important changes to practice that need to be embraced," she said.
"We will work to support clinicians and control programs in understanding and responding to the changes.
"The great news is that for a subset of patients, 10 years of penicillin injections has now been dropped to five years, based on local data and international guidance.
"We're so grateful to the many experts from around Australia and New Zealand who devoted their time to reviewing the latest evidence, synthesising concepts and work-shopping new ideas that have now been incorporated."
The new guidelines can be read here.
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