Three cardiology specialists from the Trust are heading to Cape
Town, South Africa to support a national humanitarian project
screening school children for heart disease.
The 'Echo in Africa' project has been organised by the British
Society of Echocardiography and aims to screen 2,000 school
children over an eight week period for the early signs of heart
Dr Rae Duncan, Consultant Cardiologist, Lois Albin, Cardiac
Physiologist and Alex Thompson, Cardiology STR from County Durham
and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust will each join the project for
a week to support the screening with their expertise and experience
in echocardiograph scanning.
Rheumatic Heart Disease is the most common acquired heart
disease in children in many countries of the world and is known as
the neglected disease of poverty, poor sanitation and overcrowding.
If untreated, it leads to severe scarring on the heart valves,
heart failure and premature death.
Rheumatic fever is easily treated by antibiotics if diagnosed
early and in this country it is thankfully now rare. The story in
Africa is very different where an estimated 1 million are
Lois Albin, Cardiac Physiologist said: "As part of the British
Society of Echocardiography, we will be working as part of a team
to use our skills in echocardiography to screen children for
Rheumatic Heart Disease and conduct research into this condition.
Children who are identified to have the condition will be followed
up and given treatment by Tygerberg Hospital in Cape Town, which
they may not otherwise have had access to. This screening programme
could really be lifesaving for these kids.
"This is a great opportunity for us to use our professional
skills to help people that are less fortunate than we are. We are
all really looking forward to going out there and making a
There are 15.6 million people worldwide living with the
consequences of rheumatic heart disease. Most of these people live
in areas with severe social and economic challenges.
Rheumatic heart disease is caused by the bodies over reaction to
streptococcal throat infection (severe sore throat). This
provides a disease called acute rheumatic fever. In many
cases the sufferer is unaware that they have suffered from this.
Acute rheumatic fever causes inflammation of heart valves and with
each throat infection the disease reactivates leading to
increasingly severe scarring of the heart valves.
Over time, scarred heart valves become either leaky or narrowed
and this puts immense strain on the heart leading to heart
This is the third most common cause for heart failure in Africa.
There are 15 million sufferers worldwide and a quarter of a million
deaths each year.
The key to preventing severe heart damage is early detection.
With early detection and proper treatment many of these devastating
complications can be prevented. Early detection is best provided by
ultrasound of the heart - echocardiography. Heart scanning with
ultrasound has been demonstrated to be ten times as sensitive as
the traditional method and is now recommended for screening.
Long-term treatment with antibiotics can then prevent the throat
infections that lead to reactivation of the disease.
Dr Rae Duncan, Consultant Cardiologist said: "We are in a
fortunate position having the skills, expertise and technology to
be able to identify and treat rheumatic heart disease in the UK.
New cases of the disease in children in this country are now very
rare. However, as a mother thinking about my children being at risk
of something which is so easily preventable is very emotional. So
to be able to give something back by supporting this project is a
really great opportunity and something we are all very excited
about and we are looking forward to going."
Guy Lloyd, President British Society of Echocardiography said:
"From an initial modest proposal, the initiative has grown to an
eight week rolling program of screening at the University of
Stellenbosch. The focus of this first camp is to screen up to two
thousand secondary school students for signs of Rheumatic Heart
"In order to accommodate the volume of screening and to perform
the test to a professional standard, it will be necessary to build
a permanent facility. Building the permanent facility means
that Echo in Africa will be an ongoing BSE initiative, providing an
exciting opportunity for BSE members to take part in a humanitarian
mission whilst expanding their knowledge."
" I have been amazed at how members of the society have
supported this initiative, the number prepared to give up time and
raise considerable sums of money to travel to South Africa is truly
humbling and a testament to the goodness of people working in this
For more information about the Echo in Africa project visit: http://echoinafrica.azurewebsites.net/welcome/
'I cannot commend the clinic enough. It is marvellous we
have this service at all and well done to you all.'
Patient, Coronary Heart Disease / Heart Failure Service, Shotley
Bridge Community Hospital