Understanding the Etiology of Heart Failure Among the Rural Poor in Sub-Saharan Africa: A 10-Year Experience From District Hospitals in Rwanda

J Card Fail. 2018 Dec;24(12):849-853. doi: 10.1016/j.cardfail.2018.10.002. Epub 2018 Oct 10.


Background: Heart failure is a significant cause of morbidity and mortality in sub-Saharan Africa. Our understanding of the heart failure burden in this region has been limited mainly to registries from urban referral centers. Starting in 2006, a nurse-driven strategy was initiated to provide echocardiography and decentralized heart failure care within noncommunicable disease (NCD) clinics in rural district hospitals in Rwanda.

Methods and results: We conducted a retrospective review of patients with cardiologist-confirmed heart failure treated at 3 district hospital NCD clinics in Rwanda from 2006 to 2017 to determine patient clinical characteristics and disease distribution. Over 10 years, 719 patients with confirmed heart failure were identified. Median age was 27 years overall, and 42 years in adults. Thirty-six percent were children (age <18 years), 68% were female, and 78% of adults were farmers. At entry, 39% were in New York Heart Association functional class III-IV. Among children, congenital heart disease (52%) and rheumatic heart disease (36%) were most common. In adults, cardiomyopathy (40%), rheumatic heart disease (27%), and hypertensive heart disease (13%) were most common. No patients were diagnosed with ischemic cardiomyopathy.

Conclusions: The results of the largest single-country heart failure cohort from rural sub-Saharan Africa demonstrate a persistent burden of rheumatic disease and nonischemic cardiomyopathies.

Keywords: Cardiomyopathy; Epidemiology; Global health; Hypertensive heart disease; Rheumatic heart disease.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Cardiomyopathies / complications*
  • Cardiomyopathies / epidemiology
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Forecasting*
  • Heart Failure / epidemiology
  • Heart Failure / etiology*
  • Hospitals, District*
  • Humans
  • Hypertension / complications*
  • Hypertension / epidemiology
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Poverty
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Rheumatic Heart Disease / complications*
  • Rheumatic Heart Disease / epidemiology
  • Rural Population*
  • Rwanda / epidemiology
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Young Adult