Up to 100,000 school children are targeted in a campaign to increase awareness on rheumatic heart disease.
The Kenya Heart National Foundation (KHNF), a non-governmental organisation, says the public, children and health-care workers need urgent education on the dangers of untreated strep sore throat which can cause rheumatic heart disease, a permanent heart damage.
It is a life-threatening condition that affects children from the age of three years to 15.
The disease is caused by Streptococcus bacterium and if the affected are not treated, the sore would lead to acute rheumatic fever, the most common cause of rheumatic heart disease.
“It is good for children to get treatment for strep sore throat to prevent rheumatic heart disease,” said Ms Elizabeth Gatumia, the chief executive and founder KNHF.
Children with strep sore are often advised to stay home until treatment is completed to reduce chances of transmission. Symptoms include swollen lymph nodes or tonsils with puss, high fever, no running nose and no cough.
Penicillin jabs are used as treatment for rheumatic fever and children are required to receive one injection monthly but they can continue until the age of 18 or 25 years, depending on the condition. Each jab costs Sh250.
“Children are more vulnerable and susceptible to developing the disease,” said Dr Beatrice Wanyara, a cardiovascular disease specialist at KHNF.
A recent research conducted by the foundation on 720 children revealed that 108 children in the country were likely to suffer from the disease. This means one in every seven kids risks developing the disease.
In advanced cases, heart surgeries are preferred to repair the valves at a cost of Sh800,000 which is considered costly for the poor. According to KHNF the disease primarily affects those living in low-income areas due to overcrowding which increases chances of spread.
The campaign plans cardiovascular screening of children in 1,000 schools. Talking boards, kitchen gardens, the traditional and social media will also be used in education children on the disease.
KHNF also plans to train 1,000 health workers on the heart disease and prevention in the next three years.
Visibility campaign will also feature awareness messages printed on consumer goods packages like in milk and bread wrappings.
Every year 4,200 children are diagnosed with rheumatic heart disease. “Let’s work together and save the children from death,” said Ms Gatumia.
Simple steps like washing hands have been found to reduce chances of contracting the fever.