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[p]‘Have you ever suffered from Rheumatic Fever?’[i] [/i]As a medical student I was taught that this question should be asked to every patient, but I didn’t really understand what all the fuss was about. I had a vague understanding that Rheumatic Heart Disease was important and I wanted to be a good student, but patients always just gave me a puzzled look and they invariably answered ‘no’. So, over time, I think I just stopped asking. I’m sure I’m not the only one.[i] [/i]Even now, as a cardiology registrar, I don’t really give it much thought. When I see a breathless young patient the diagnosis rarely even crosses my mind and I certainly don’t worry that my own children might one day be affected by the disease. [/p][p]The reality however is that there are currently 15.6 million people worldwide living with the consequences of rheumatic heart disease, the vast majority of whom live in areas with severe social and economic challenges. Whilst we are privileged in this country to be sheltered from this epidemic, in the developing world patients continue to be exposed to the severe effects or rheumatic heart disease. [/p][p]Parents do worry about their children dying prematurely. Young people do develop profound breathless as a consequence of heart failure. Mothers and infants do die during childbirth as a consequence of unrecognised heart disease.[/p][p]This is a tragedy as with early detection and proper treatment many of these devastating complications can be prevented. Detection involves a simple bedside ultrasound scan of the heart (echo scan) which can diagnose early rheumatic changes, even in patients who have not yet developed any symptoms. [/p][p]This year I have therefore decided to volunteer with 'Echo in Africa' a fabulous charity organised by the British Society of Echocardiography. In October I will travel as a volunteer to Cape Town in South Africa, to perform echo screening on school students from rural communities. Identifying the signs of early stage rheumatic heart disease will then allow aftercare and treatment to be provided by the local cardiology team at Tygerberg Hospital.[/p][p]Volunteer programs like this rely upon charitable donations and I would be most grateful if you would consider giving to this extremely worthy cause.[/p]