Public Health Service director Doctor Neti Tamarua Herman said a team of specialist doctors from New Zealand and Australia will work with local health staff to provide free screening.
The team started work at Avarua School yesterday and will move around the island till all the target students have been screened. However, parents/caregivers must understand that their child/children can only be screened with their permission.
“So we have sent consent forms to the parents via their children and we are awaiting their approval, by signing the consent form and returning it to the school as soon as possible,” Herman said.
However, there were significant numbers of children who had not returned their consent forms to the schools, she said.
“We are therefore pleading to the parents to please sign and return your child/children’s consent form to the principals of their schools, or to the Public Health Department.
“We do not want your child to miss out on this free opportunity to have their health fully checked.”
Rheumatic heart disease is the most common cardio vascular disease in children and young adults, and is caused by children being exposed to streptococcus (bacteria) infection, mainly of the throat and skin.
Streptococcal throat infection (sore throat) occurs commonly in children with the peak ages between 5 and 15 years.
“If the infection is not treated adequately, this may result with the child developing acute rheumatic fever.
“The signs and symptoms may include sore throat, fever, joint pain, arthritis of one or more joints, rash and carditis (inflammation of the heart).”
Acute rheumatic fever may occur two to three weeks after a throat infection and may sometimes resolve without treatment.
With treatment the symptoms usually disappear within one or two weeks. However the acute form of the disease can occur repeatedly in people who continue to be exposed to high levels of streptococcal infections in their environment.
If the child have repeated acute rheumatic fever, and are not properly treated, this may damage the valves in the heart, resulting with rheumatic heart disease. When this happens the valves in the heart becomes stretched and scarred, so cannot move normally in pumping blood through the body. If this is not diagnosed and managed early, it can result in heart failure and premature death.
“So to all parents of school children 5-15 years, please, we are again humbly requesting your support in ensuring that you have signed your child’s consent form and return these to the principal of his/her school,” Herman says.
“This is a good opportunityand should not to be missed.”
Cardiac technologist Stuart Cox says rheumatic heart disease is a problem in the Pacific, especially in heavily populated areas.
“A coughing cold or a sore throat is contagious; we see it a lot in families or villages especially in outer islands.”
Cox said the screening programme helps health specialists to isolate an area that needs to be treated.
He said early detection and treatment with injections and antibiotics, saves a patient having to have surgery later in life.
But if it is not detected some victims will need an operation by the age of 25.
The life expectancy of an infected person depends on the severity of the disease.
Meanwhile, Cox is also urging parents in the outer islands to bring their children along for free screening in the next few weeks.