Resolution at 71st World Health Assembly will lead to coordinated global response
Cape Town – 09 July 2018 – At the recent 71st World Health Assembly in Geneva, Switzerland, Member States of the World Health Organization unanimously adopted a Global Resolution on Rheumatic Fever and Rheumatic Heart Disease. This historic decision marks the first time that Rheumatic Fever (RF) and Rheumatic Heart Disease (RHD) have been recognized as global health priorities on the world health stage.
Local scientists have been instrumental in driving the agenda to achieve this landmark decision1, 2. The Resolution was co-sponsored by countries from all six WHO regions, including South Africa. Rheumatic heart disease is a preventable condition arising from acute rheumatic fever.
“We have worked consistently to demonstrate the urgent need for a unified response to these serious conditions,” said Professor Liesl Zühlke, Associate Professor at the Red Cross Memorial Children’s Hospital, who specialises in paediatric heart disease. “According to the WHO, rheumatic heart disease affects around 30 million people each year. In 2015, the disease was estimated to have caused 250 000 deaths.3 The disease most commonly occurs in childhood and adolescence and disproportionately affects girls and women,” continued Professor Zühlke.
At the WHA, there was strong consensus among governments that action was needed on a range of fronts, including strengthening primary and secondary prevention of RF and RHD, integrating RHD services into primary health care, securing a reliable supply of benzathine penicillin G, and ensuring a well-resourced and trained health workforce to provide RHD services.
Professor Liesl Zühlke is the newly elected president of the RHD Evidence, Advocacy, Communication and Hope (Rheach) organisation. Rheach is a global organisation which aims to identify, describe and disseminate solutions for this neglected disease and to reduce the burden on vulnerable populations around the world. Rheach will partner the WHO to implement, monitor and provide advice on RF and RHD to endemic countries. Several members of the South Africa Cardiology community have also been key figures in driving the adoption of this resolution, including Prof. Karen Sliwa, President-elect of the World Heart Federation and Prof. Bongani Mayosi, Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences at UCT.
Discussions at the WHA highlighted that vulnerable groups and marginalized communities are the most affected by RF and RHD, and that its prevention and control is essential to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and universal health coverage.
“Now that this policy has been adopted by the full World Health Assembly, the Resolution stands as the first global commitment on RHD to be endorsed by all governments. It now serves as a high-level global policy that demands national and international decision-makers to take action to prioritise and fund RHD prevention and control in all endemic settings,” concluded Professor Zühlke.
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Notes to the Editor
About Rheumatic Fever and Rheumatic heart disease
World Health Organisation, 71st World Health Assembly. 25 May 2018: [cited 2018 06 27]. Available at:
Delegates agreed a resolution calling for WHO to launch a coordinated global response to rheumatic heart disease, which affects around 30 million people each year. In 2015, the disease was estimated to have caused 350 000 deaths. The disease most commonly occurs in childhood and disproportionately affects girls and women.
Rheumatic heart disease is a preventable condition arising from acute rheumatic fever. Despite the availability of effective measures for prevention and treatment of the disease, cases have not significantly declined in recent years. Socioeconomic and environmental factors such as poor housing, undernutrition, overcrowding and poverty increase the likelihood and the severity of the disease.
Improving standards of living, expanding access to appropriate care, and ensuring a consistent supply of quality-assured antibiotics are some of the key strategies that can dramatically reduce the number of people affected. Delegates called on WHO to reinvigorate efforts to tackle rheumatic fever and to lead and coordinate renewed global efforts for its prevention and control.
For more information on the WHO Resolution:
For more information about:
Rheach: RHD Evidence, Advocacy, Communication and Hope (Rheach)
Rheach is a technical support and policy translation initiative to amplify rheumatic heart disease control efforts locally, regionally and globally. Rheach aims to identify, describe and disseminate solutions for this neglected disease and to reduce burden on vulnerable populations around the world.
For further information contact:
Vicki St Quintin
011 325 0020
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- Mayosi B. The four pillars of rheumatic heart disease control. S Afr Med J. 2009;100:506.
- Watkins DA, Johnson CO, Colquhoun SM, Karthikeyan G, Beaton A, Bukhman G, Forouzanfar MH, Longenecker CT, Mayosi BM, Mensah GA, Nascimento BR, Ribeiro ALP, Sable CA, Steer AC, Naghavi M, Mokdad AH, Murray CJL, Vos T, Carapetis JR and Roth GA. Global, Regional, and National Burden of Rheumatic Heart Disease, 1990-2015. N Engl J Med. 2017;377:713-722.