Objectives: To explore the extent to which current practices for the secondary prevention of rheumatic fever (RF) in Cape Town adhere to those outlined in the national guidelines on the primary prevention and prophylaxis of RF and rheumatic heart disease (RHD) for health professionals at primary level.
Methods: A combination of qualitative tools was used to evaluate the four priority issues identified in the guidelines as fundamental elements of a comprehensive programme for the secondary prophylaxis of RF/RHD: (i) health education and promotion; (ii) case detection of RF and RHD; (iii) secondary prophylaxis every 3-4 weeks at primary level; and (iv) notification of acute rheumatic fever (ARF). The qualitative tools included parent/child interviews of cases diagnosed with ARF in the Cape metropole area during the period 1999-2003; a physician questionnaire focused on awareness and adherence to the national guidelines; and a review of the records on acute rheumatic fever notification in the Cape metropole area from 1999 to 2003.
Results: The evaluation revealed four key findings. First, patient knowledge on the disease was almost non-existent. Despite this lack of knowledge, adherence to secondary prophylactic treatment was good. Second, the physicians most likely to encounter a case of rheumatic fever were least likely to be aware of and to comply with the national guideline. Third, the guidelines do not clearly state how increased detection of ARF will be achieved. Finally, the RF notification system is dysfunctional, with discrepancies in the reporting of cases at hospital, city and provincial levels.
Conclusions: Since the publication of the national guidelines in 1997, little progress has been made towards achieving the implementation of a comprehensive programme for the secondary prevention of RF/RHD.