Governments Adopt a Global Resolution on Rheumatic Fever and Rheumatic Heart Disease at the 71st World Health Assembly

31 May 2018
71st World Health Assembly in Geneva, Switzerland
The 71st World Health Assembly was held in Geneva, Switzerland in May 2018
31 May 2018

Following years of campaigning and advocacy from the RHD community, we are delighted to announce that on Friday 25 May 2018, Member States of the World Health Organisation (WHO) unanimously adopted a Global Resolution on Rheumatic Fever and Rheumatic Heart Disease at the World Health Assembly in Geneva, Switzerland.

This historic decision marks the first time that Rheumatic Fever (RF) and Rheumatic Heart Disease (RHD) have been recognised as global health priorities on the world stage. The Resolution was co-sponsored by countries from all six WHO regions, demonstrating the urgent need for a global response.

The Resolution on Rheumatic Fever and Rheumatic Heart Disease was written by a group of governments – led by New Zealand supported by South Africa and Namibia– and is accompanied by a summary report from WHO, which calls for a ‘coordinated global response’ to tackle RHD. There was strong consensus among governments that action was needed on a range of fronts, including strengthening primary and secondary prevention of RF and RHD, integrating RHD services into primary health care, securing a reliable supply of benzathine penicillin G, and ensuring a well-resourced and trained health workforce to provide RHD services. Discussions also noted that prevention and control is essential to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and universal health coverage. As a high-level global policy that demands national and international decision-makers to take action, the Resolution marks a significant step forward towards tackling RF and RHD. 

During the Health assembly, the co-founders of RHD Action, who led the call for the resolution, Reach (RHD Evidence, Advocacy, Communication and Hope) and the World Heart Federation (WHF) convened a side-event featuring the Ministers of Health of New Zealand and Namibia and the governments of Australia, Fiji and representatives from South Africa, Nepal and Uganda. The highlight of the side-event were presentations from two young patients, Christine from Uganda and Buli from Fiji. Representing South Africa at the event was the newly-elected President of Reach, A/Prof Liesl Zühlke from Red Cross Children's Hospital and WHF President-elect Prof Karen Sliwa, director of the Hatter Insitute. Together they will be working very closely with all stakeholders to ensure that governments and the WHO fulfil their commitment to take action on this preventable disease.

Profs Karen Sliwa (middle) and Liesl Zühlke (right) at the side event

At last this is a major acknowledgement of all stakeholders who have helped make RF and RHD a global priority, including advocates, researchers, health workers, the private sector, and of course, people living with RHD.