Philips Foundation, with its mission to provide access to quality healthcare for 100 million people a year in underserved communities by 2030, together with World Heart Federation (WHF), today announced a ground-breaking partnership to promote awareness, medical training as well as early diagnosis and treatment of rheumatic heart disease (RHD) in Asia Pacific (APAC).
The partnership, which kicks off in the Philippines, aims to provide over half a million at-risk children with access to healthcare facilities equipped with trained personnel to diagnose the disease. 190 Regional Health Units (RHUs) providing primary care to a population of over five million will have healthcare workers trained on the rheumatic fever/RHD clinical pathway. 6,000 children in the Philippines will also be screened for RHD using Philips’ innovative handheld point-of-care ultrasound device (POCUS). Additionally, around 200 teachers will be educated on RHD, leading to greater disease awareness that increasing the likelihood that children and young adults seek early diagnosis and treatment.
Launching this year and extending until June 2025, the pilot project in the Philippines targets a combination of challenges – low disease awareness, lack of healthcare access and treatment, inadequate diagnosis, and inadequate medical training – to drive a comprehensive approach to alleviating the burden of RHD. The project also has the support and cooperation of the Philippines Ministry of Health, which ensures alignment with the existing healthcare system, contributing to its long-term sustainability. The project builds on insights gained through a collaborative effort between Philips Foundation and Heart Healers International in Uganda, which looked at the pivotal role of penicillin in the early intervention and management of RHD. Over 100,000 children received echocardiographic screening through the program in 2018, out of which 1,000 have been enrolled in a penicillin treatment program, and five have received life-saving heart surgeries.
“Our partnership with the World Heart Federation aims to drive improved early detection and treatment of rheumatic heart disease, while demonstrating the sustainability and cost-effectiveness of this innovative approach in the Philippines,” said Margot Cooijmans, Director of the Philips Foundation. “Rheumatic heart disease remains a pressing issue in underserved regions across the globe, largely overlooked in the global health agenda. The lack of attention and resources in these settings prompts us to ensure that these communities are not left behind as they battle a disease that has already been eradicated elsewhere.”
Tackling the high burden of RHD in underserved communities across APAC
RHD is a life-threatening but preventable heart condition that affects an estimated 40 million people worldwide, primarily adolescents and children. In the APAC region, the prevalence and mortality rates are particularly significant, with the largest estimated number of cases of RHD in 2015 in India at 13.17 million cases followed by Indonesia with a high prevalence of 1.18 million. The Philippines is also among the higher-burden countries.
For effective diagnosis of RHD, POCUS, a handheld ultrasound solution offers a variety of benefits. This device has been shown to be far more sensitive in diagnosing RHD than traditional cardiac screening with a stethoscope that is used in most resource-stretched settings where ultrasound is not available at primary care sites. This device eliminates delays in traditional diagnosis and treatment, as well as additional expenses for patients who needed to travel to hospitals for proper diagnosis.
“In APAC, rheumatic heart disease represents a significant public health burden in underserved populations. By leveraging Philips’ innovative healthcare technology and solutions in meaningful partnerships like this, we contribute to improved healthcare access and drive better outcomes for patients. This project not only represents a significant opportunity for healthcare advancement but is also a crucial step to eliminate rheumatic heart disease,” said Caroline Clarke, Chief Executive Officer and Executive Vice President, Philips APAC.
Strategic partnership to bridge the need gaps
Philips Foundation, together with the World Heart Federation, will be able to address this gap by having POCUS and trained healthcare workers in high-risk areas with limited resources. The first leg of the project will run in three high-prevalence areas of the Philippines: Taguig Global City, Iloilo, and Bicol, and includes intensive training and education for local healthcare workers on handheld echocardiographic screening, RHD clinical pathways, and benzathine penicillin administration. In the project, 20 RHUs providing primary care will be equipped with POCUS, allowing patients at risk to be referred to an RHU equipped with a POCUS for further detection. “The partnership showcases a strong commitment to education and training of healthcare workers, ensuring that they are equipped with cutting-edge technology for RHD detection,” says Professor Liesl Zuhlke, Vice-President of the South African Medical Research Council, Paediatric cardiologist and RHD researcher, and World Heart Federation Board Member. “Our goal is to set a precedent for the Asia-Pacific region and the world.”
The project’s innovative decentralized model of RHD care allows children diagnosed with RHD to receive follow-up treatment within their local community. This approach ensures that the treatment model is sustainable and respects existing healthcare infrastructure, a critical factor for the success of this model in other parts of the world.
Building the foundation for improved diagnosis of RHD
This partnership will provide further evidence of the benefits of POCUS use for RHD and an example that can be implemented elsewhere in the region. The World Heart Federation and Philips Foundation will share their preliminary findings of the Philippines project at the inaugural Global Congress on RHD in Abu Dhabi in November 2023 to facilitate discussions on further collaboration projects to advocate for the use of POCUS in the screening of RHD and drive targeted actions to support the implementation in primary care settings across highly prevalent countries in the APAC region.
“We are confident that the insights gleaned from this project will contribute significantly to the global understanding of Rheumatic Heart Disease and serve as a stepping-stone to further partnerships and initiatives,” adds Professor Liesl Zuhlke.