Rheumatic Heart Disease Program in Zambia

Program Objective

To combat rheumatic heart disease in Zambia using new technology.

Portable echocardiography machines create ultrasound images of the heart that can show tissue damage even before symptoms appear. Portable echocardiography machines create ultrasound images of the heart that can show tissue damage even before symptoms appear. Copyright Novartis

What are the health needs and challenges?

RHD is caused by streptococcal pharyngitis, commonly known as strep throat. Strep throat is easily treated with penicillin. But untreated, some patients will eventually form scars on valves of the heart. Over time, this can lead to heart failure and, ultimately, early death. 

In sub-Saharan Africa, recent studies show that a staggering 1-3% of school-age children have early signs of disease. “BeatRHD Zambia” is tackling RHD through a multi-faceted effort involving research, health system strengthening, public awareness, and health policy activities. 

Description of partnership activities and how they address needs and challenges

Novartis is working with Lusaka University Teaching Hospital and the Zambian Ministry of Health in partnership with the University of Cape Town and Massachusetts General Hospital to combat rheumatic heart disease (RHD).  

Research. New technology is revolutionizing the way doctors can identify children with RHD. Portable echocardiography machines create ultrasound images of the heart that can show tissue damage even before symptoms appear. Using this new technology, over 3,000 schoolchildren in Lusaka have been screened. Children diagnosed with RHD are offered monthly penicillin injections according to national guidelines. The results of the screening will, for the first time, indicate the prevalence of RHD in a Zambian population using echocardiography. 

Health system strengthening. The partnership supports efforts of the local doctors and nurses to strengthen health systems in Lusaka to help children with strep throat and RHD receive the treatment they need. Currently, more than 25 government clinics in Lusaka have been enrolled in this effort. All clinics completed an initial training workshop about RHD prevention and treatment and receive ongoing coaching by nurses from the university hospital. At the invitation of the health authorities in Zambia, the partnership plans to extend the rollout of the RHD training and treatment effort from the initial Lusaka scheme to multiple provinces across Zambia. 

Public awareness. Public awareness is essential to RHD prevention and treatment. The partnership has distributed key messages through television and radio programs, and educational brochures and posters. Many of these activities take place during a nationally sponsored “RHD Week” each year. 

Health policy. The partnership has contributed to health policy work to support RHD elimination throughout Africa. Partners helped to sponsor meetings of technical experts from more than 10 countries on three occasions under the auspices of the Pan African Society of Cardiology, which ultimately helped seed an RHD Policy Roadmap developed by the African Union and agreed upon by African Ministers of Health and Heads of States. 

The initiative in Zambia is coordinated by Dr. John Musuku, Chief of Paediatrics at University Teaching Hospital. The Zambia Ministry of Health approves all programs that take place in government clinics. The partners meet in person or virtually 2-4 times monthly to discuss planning, implementation, monitoring, and evaluation of program activities.

Partnership information

Company(ies) Novartis

Partner(s) Lusaka University, Massachusetts General Hospital, University of Cape Town, Zambian Ministry of Health

Type of Partner(s) Academia / Hospitals, Government

Therapeutic Focus Non-Communicable Diseases

Disease(s) Cardiovascular Diseases

Program Type(s) Availability of Treatment - Product Donations, Health System Infrastructure - Development of Physical Infrastructure, Health System Infrastructure - mHealth, Health System Infrastructure - Outreach & Medical Services, Prevention Programs - Awareness & Outreach

Targeted Population(s) Children, General population, Patients in needs of treatment

Region(s) Sub-Saharan Africa

Number of Countries 1

Country(ies) Zambia

Start Date 2012

More information Novartis Newsroom

Anticipated completion date Ongoing

« This is an effort to eliminate the disease across Zambia in our lifetime. »

Dr. John Musuku, Pediatric Cardiologist at Lusaka University Hospital