Rheumatic heart disease in the developing world: prevalence, prevention, and control

Eur Heart J. 1993 Jan;14(1):122-8. doi: 10.1093/eurheartj/14.1.122.


Rheumatic heart disease (RHD) continues to be a common health problem in the developing world, causing morbidity and mortality among both children and adults. Although little longitudinal data are available, evidence suggests that there has been little if any decline in the occurrence of RHD over the past few decades. Recent reports from the developing world have documented rheumatic fever (RF) incidence rates as high as 206/100,000 and RHD prevalence rates as high as 18.6/1000. The high frequency of RHD in the developing world necessitates aggressive prevention and control measures. The major interventions for prevention and control include: (1) reduction of exposure to group A streptococci, (2) primary prophylaxis to prevent initial episodes of RF, and (3) secondary prophylaxis to prevent recurrent episodes of RF. Because recurrent episodes of RF cause increasingly severe cardiac complications, secondary prophylaxis is the most crucial feature of an effective RHD programme. For some impoverished countries, secondary prophylaxis may be the only intervention that can realistically be implemented. In addition to this intervention, however, financial and human resources must be committed, and all of these elements must be integrated into existing primary health care systems. Because RHD continues to be a common health problem in the developing world, greater emphasis needs to be placed on the simple and cost-effective prevention and control measures that are currently available to combat this disabling disease.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cross-Cultural Comparison*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Developing Countries*
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Rheumatic Heart Disease / epidemiology*
  • Rheumatic Heart Disease / prevention & control