Issue 3
Monday, 30 April 2018
Charles Darwin University
Dr Josh Francis trains Timorese health workers to use the Vscan heart monitor
Dr Josh Francis trains Timorese health workers to use the Vscan heart monitor

Researchers lead drive for heart health in Timor-Leste

By Paul Dale

Researchers at Menzies School of Health Research have found the rates of rheumatic heart disease (RHD) in Timor-Leste are among the highest in the world.

The landmark study, published in the Medical Journal of Australia, is the first to measure RHD in Timor-Leste and involved screening 1400 school children for the disease.

The study, supported by East Timor Hearts Fund, found a prevalence of definite and borderline RHD in Timor-Leste of 3.5 per cent – an equivalent figure to other countries with the highest rates globally. All cases of RHD identified had previously been undiagnosed.

Lead author, Menzies honorary research fellow Dr Josh Francis said the levels of RHD in Timor-Leste were even greater than those seen in high risk Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory, where similar studies have identified RHD in about 2.5 per cent of (screened) school children.

In response to the findings in Timor-Leste, Dr Francis is leading a follow-up screening program called the Pedriño Study, with support from partners including the Government of Timor-Leste, Rotary Oceania Medical Aid for Children, Maluk Timor, NT Cardiac, Snow Foundation, Humpty Dumpty Foundation, and the Australian Heart Foundation.

“Given the high burden of RHD we identified in Timor-Leste, and the high burden of RHD in Northern Australia, we believe there is a role for further school-based echocardiography screening, but also a need to develop and validate a simpler, quicker, cheaper approach to active case finding, that could be successfully scaled up,” Dr Francis said.

“The Pedriño study involves further echo screening of more than 2000 students for RHD in Timor-Leste and the NT, this time evaluating an abbreviated echo protocol using handheld Vscan echo machines operated by trained health workers, doctors and nurses from Timor-Leste and the NT.”