Rheumatic heart disease (RHD) is the most commonly acquired heart disease in young people under the age of 25. It most often begins in childhood as strep throat, caused by a group A streptococcal (GAS) infection. If left untreated, this can lead to acute rheumatic fever (ARF), which is an abnormal immune reaction to this bacterial infection. Repeated episodes of ARF cause inflammation of the heart valves and muscle, and may progress to RHD resulting in serious heart damage that kills or debilitates adolescents and adults.
The global refugee crisis is likely contributing to the burden of RHD and raising serious new concerns about increasing prevalence and limitations of care. Currently, an unprecedented 70.8 million people around the world have been forced from their homes, an increase of 2.3 million people from 2018. Among them are 25.9 million refugees, with approximately half of whom are under the age of 18, when the risk of ARF is greatest.
Refugees and displaced persons from settings affected by crisis often have complex needs and an increased risk of health problems related to their journeys. Many migrants experience difficulties in access to and continuity of health care. Many refugees lack access to any health records, continuity of service or care for chronic disease. This makes identifying and managing RHD particularly difficult.
On World Refugee Day 2019, Reach has updated and revised our information brief on Migrant and Refugee Health and Rheumatic Heart Disease, to read the full briefing and for further information:
Migrant and Refugee Health and Rheumatic Heart Disease | Information Brief (2019)
UN Refugee Agency | UNHCR (Global Trends 2018)