Widespread screening of children in poorer countries is now being studied and is resulting in the diagnosis of rheumatic heart disease (RHD) in patients that would likely have gone undetected under normal circumstances, according to two new studies carried out in Fiji and Uganda presented today at the World Congress of Cardiology.
Coordinated screening and control programmes can help to identify patients before they progress to severe RHD for a fraction of the cost associated with treating these patients. While more work needs to be done to determine if these programmes should be widely promoted, there has been limited evidence to suggest that they are feasible in countries that have few resources - until now.
In one study carried out in Uganda, 4,869 school children were screened simply using a stethoscope and a portable echocardiography machine. Of the children screened, 72 (1.5 per cent) were diagnosed with possible, probably or definite RHD that required follow-up.
"This is one of the largest single-country child echo-based RHD screening studies that has been carried out," said Dr. Andrea Beaton Children's National Medical Center, USA. "This study proves that even in low-resource settings it is possible to embark on a screening programme that will identify children with probable or definite RHD, that would otherwise not have been seen until they had progressed to severe disease."
Meanwhile, in Fiji, a similar screening programme sought to estimate the prevalence of RHD in primary school-aged children using echocardiography and to determine if nurses could be trained to use a RHD echocardiography screening protocol in a resource-poor setting.