Big Bucks for a Heart Killer That Can and Should Be Conquered

Remember back in June, when we were talking up HealthRise, Medtronic’s emerging new program designed to target the intersection of public health and disease in underserved communities across the globe?

We hope so, because it's cool stuff. It takes on noncommunicable diseases like diabetes and heart disease—y’know, things that are totally manageable in communities with resources—and boosts community awareness and access to treatments, with the goal of cutting premature mortality. And now, it seems as if that approach may be spreading to other aspects of Medtronic’s grantmaking.

Related: Medtronic's Big Push to Improve Access to Care for Noncommunicable Diseases

We say that because the foundation is laying out $6 million to prevent and control rheumatic heart disease (RHD). The money will help to establish a global consortium on RHD, and to found projects in three countries that are yet to be determined, surprisingly.

The consortium players—the World Heart Federation, RhEACH, and the Global Heart Network—are seasoned pros, good partners for Medtronic’s scope and collaborative spirit. HealthRise is on-the-go in Brazil, India, South Africa, and the United States, and so it would seem sensible to undertake this RHD initiative in countries where they already know the lay of the land, so to speak.

We’re not expecting to see the United States on the list, by the way. Rheumatic heart disease just isn’t something you see often in this country, at least not anymore. It comes on with a strep throat infection that isn’t adequately treated. The virus sets up shop, ratcheting up a wicked fever that leads to building inflammation that eventually makes its way to the heart. The whole thing swells up. The body’s own attempts to repair the heart, post-fever, create fibrous, rigid scarring—exactly the kind of thing you don’t want in an organ designed to be elastic.

The after-effects can include mortality from a weakened heart, or at the very least, a lifetime of compromised cardiac function. RHD most commonly strikes those between the ages of six and 15, and of course, with the right combination of antibiotics, it’s completely preventable. "A strep throat infection should not be a death sentence because of where you live," says Dr. Jacob Gayle, vice president, Medtronic Philanthropy. "We don't fear RHD in industrialized countries because it is the most preventable form of cardiovascular disease. How we treat it is as an indicator of the overall strength of a community's health system and its capacity to reach underserved populations."