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More than 4,000 students screened for rheumatic heart disease

More than 4,000 students from primary schools on Upolu and Savai'i were screened for rheumatic heart disease by a group of doctors, students, and professors from Brigham Young University (B.Y.U.).

The team concluded their screening programme with Vailoa Primary School on Friday morning before they left in the evening.

Cardiologist, Dr. Marvin Allen, said rheumatic heart disease begins with a sore throat.

“It starts from a strep infection that if left untreated will go through several phases and eventually attacks the valves of the heart particularly in children and some of those effects are not noticed until adulthood but it can cause children and adults to be very sick like the heart to fail, stroke or infections, and death," he said. 

“The reason we are so interested in it is we see it as a preventable disease because if we can intervene with giving penicillin either when they first get a strep throat or when they have the disease then we can stop the progression to where they are sick and need surgery.

“So far, we have screened 2,500 children in Savaii from 14 various primary schools and more than 2,000 students in Upolu from 12 primary schools. We have identified so many kids that have never been diagnosed and some who had surgery but need new evaluation,” he added.

Dr. Allen said according to their findings for Savaii alone, there are 12 kids who would require surgery compared to the small number of children on Upolu. But he emphasised there's a significant number of children who are sick. 

“We have been doing this for 10 years and it is pretty consistent that when we come over there is usually about one percent of the children who they have definite rheumatic heart disease meaning they need to be on penicillin and followed up and checking their hearts.

“There is another one percent that are classified as borderline that don't need penicillin but need to be followed closer than other students and of that one percent there's maybe every year about 10 children who are very sick either need to undergo surgery or hospitalised or they need more advanced treatment.

“This year we found more because we started to see some children and follow-up who we knew were sick before but we come back and they are sicker,” he told the Samoa Observer.

Dr. Allen said their biggest challenge is ensuring they communicate their findings with the Samoan medical professionals so that they understand the findings and continue the work.

“We have been continually working on that but it is still an ongoing challenge that needs improvement.

“We share our information with the Ministry of Health (M.O.H.) like the reports on what is wrong with the heart and to see if penicillin or surgery is more beneficial.

“I think this year's screening was very successful, we're still working on transitioning with the M.O.H. especially the people who follow up after. We are coming back next year and we are thinking of expanding it through training of Samoan medical personnel to follow up with the kids.”

Principal of Vailoa Primary School, Lemafoe Telea Leituala thanked the team for offering their assistance to screen their students. 

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