Reach, in partnership with the World Health Organization’s Regional Office for the Eastern Mediterranean (WHO EMRO) and the World Heart Federation (WHF), co-organised a technical consultation on Rheumatic Fever (RF) and Rheumatic Heart Disease (RHD) held at the WHO Regional Office of the Eastern Mediterranean in Cairo, Egypt from January 21st to 22nd 2019.
The two-day meeting marked a significant step towards implementing the recent global resolution (WHA 71.14) on RF/RHD in the Eastern Mediterranean Region (EMR). Representatives from WHO EMRO, Reach and WHF were joined by Ministry of Health representatives from eight countries, including Egypt, Afghanistan, Sudan, Somalia, Pakistan, Morocco, Tunisia and Jordan, as well as a number of expert advisors from the region.
Dr Asmus Hammerich (Director, NMH WHO/EMRO) and Dr Slim Slama (Regional Advisor NCD Management, NMH WHO/EMRO) welcomed participants and opened the meeting. The current global momentum to address RF/RHD following the passing of a resolution at the World Health Assembly (WHA) in May last year was outlined, along with the background to EMRO’s engagement on the issue and the objectives of the consultative meeting.
Ms Lisa Telford from Reach provided an overview of the literature available on RF/RHD burden and activities in the region. Country representatives then each outlined the current status of RHD prevention and control in their setting, identifying areas of progress, challenges and priorities. Key issues raised included concerns about quality-assurance for benzathine penicillin G, limited access to primary and secondary prevention, how to meet the needs of refugee and conflict-affected populations, and the lack of community awareness of the disease.
Deputy Executive Director of Reach, Dr Sophie La Vincente, then presented a draft Regional Framework for Action to address RF/RHD in endemic countries. The proposed regional framework seeks to operationalize WHA resolution 71.14, and is designed to help guide Member States in developing country action plans to strengthen RF/RHD prevention and control.
Day two of the meeting started with break-out sessions for discussion and feedback on the draft framework. WHF representative, Mr Alastair White, then presented the terms of reference for a regional Expert Network (EN) on RF/RHD. Overall the draft framework and the proposed regional EN were well received and the meeting concluded with a review of currently available tools and resources to aid countries in establishing RF/RHD control programmes.
Next steps involve refining both the regional situation analysis and framework by integrating participants’ input and generating a regional synopsis identifying key priorities areas and opportunities for action.