Background In Africa, screening for asymptomatic rheumatic heart disease (RHD) has been conducted in single communities using non-standardised echocardiographic criteria. The use of different diagnostic criteria has led to widely variable estimates of the prevalence of RHD in the same communities.
Methods Randomly selected school pupils, from 4 to 24 years of age in Bonteheuwel and Langa communities of Cape Town, South Africa, and Jimma, Ethiopia, respectively, were screened for RHD according to standardised evidence-based echocardiographic diagnostic criteria of the World Heart Federation (WHF).
Results We screened 4720 scholars. In South Africa (n=2720), 1604 (58.9%) were female and the mean age was 12.2±4.2 years. In Ethiopia (n=2000), 1012 (50.6%) were female and the mean age was 10.7±2.5 years. Echocardiographic screening revealed 55 cases of definite and borderline RHD by WHF criteria in South Africa and 61 cases in Ethiopia, corresponding to a prevalence of 20.2 cases per 1000 (95% CI 15.3 to 26.2) and 31 cases per 1000 (95% CI 23.4 to 39.0), respectively. The odds of detecting a scholar with RHD in Ethiopia were 1.5 times higher than in South Africa (OR 1.5; 95% CI 1.04 to 2.2, p=0.02). The prevalence of RHD was 27 cases per 1000 (95% CI 19.3 to 36.8) in Langa, and 12.5 cases per 1000 (95% CI 7.1 to 20.2) in Bonteheuwel. The odds of detecting a schoolchild with RHD in Langa compared with Bonteheuwel were 2.2 (OR 2.2; 95% CI 1.2 to 4.2, p=0.0071).
Interpretation There were significant differences in detecting asymptomatic RHD in school pupils of different countries and in different communities within a country in sub-Saharan Africa. The variation in the prevalence of RHD between countries and communities has important implications for the modelling of the global burden of RHD.
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