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The Kenyan-Heart National Foundation, with the help of the Danish Heart Foundation and the governments of Denmark and Kenya, is working to reduce the scourge of rheumatic heart disease in Kenya.

Each year, it is estimated that Kenya has approximately 200,000 new cases of rheumatic heart disease, making it among the world’s hardest-hit countries.

Rheumatic heart disease begins in adolescence and childhood and flourishes in conditions of poverty. In some children, common infections caused by the streptococcus bacteria (e.g. "strep throat") sets off rheumatic fever. This causes damage to their heart valves which, if allowed to progress, is often fatal. In most countries where the disease is still common, the surgery needed to save the lives of children with severe rheumatic heart disease is far too costly, if it is accessible at all.

The disease can be prevented, but only if communities and health care workers are aware of its symptoms and proper preventive measures. The Kenyan-Heart National Foundation’s rheumatic heart disease prevention project has started its focus on the Nairobi Eastlands area of Kenya’s capital, where 60% of the inhabitants live in neighbourhoods called “slums”.

Raising Kenyans’ awareness

The rheumatic heart disease prevention project comprises four key initiatives:

• Talking Walls
• Training Workshops and Capacity-building Seminars
• Local Committees
• Heart Clubs

The Talking Walls are large colourful murals. Painted on the walls of 12 schools in Nairobi Eastlands so far, they are designed to explain to school children and to passersby what they can do to prevent rheumatic heart disease.

The Training Workshops and Capacity-building Seminars are for teachers, clinicians, nurses, church representatives and social workers. Participants are trained both to prevent rheumatic heart disease and to train others in prevention. More than 91 teachers have participated, who in turn have imparted their knowledge of prevention to over 60,000 teachers, parents, children and administrative employees.

The Local Committees train grassroots community leaders to prevent rheumatic heart disease through different activities, while the Heart Clubs are designed to raise community awareness of rheumatic heart disease. The clubs organize such fun and heart-healthy activities as dances, skits, rope-skipping competitions and gymnastics exercises.

Denmark’s support is key

The Danish Heart Foundation and the Kenyan-Heart National Foundation started their cooperation five years ago through the World Heart Federation’s African Twinning Programme. The programme twinned developing heart foundations in Africa with established heart foundations in other parts of the world.

The Danish Heart Foundation contributes financial and technical support. Some of the funds that it contributes are its own, some it receives and passes on from a special fund for small Danish nongovernmental organizations of DANIDA -- Denmark’s international development agency. The Danish Heart Foundation decided to donate the Talking Walls under the auspices of Crown Princess Mary, patron of the Danish Heart Foundation.

Impressive results

The Kenyan-Heart National Foundation estimates that the two-year-old project has reached a good part of the population of Nairobi.

“So far, we have been impressed by the results in Nairobi and the great work being done by the Kenyan-Heart National Foundation,” said Dorte Fremm of the Danish Heart Foundation. “However, there’s more to do. Our goal is to convince more volunteers to support the project and more private donors to provide funds.” The Danish Heart Foundation has organized a group of volunteers in Denmark with special interest in the project. The aim is to build a bridge between Danish and Kenyan heart patients so that they can exchange experiences and viewpoints, however different the situation of the two groups. The Danish group also wishes to find donors in Denmark, who can help the project with expertise, manpower or money. The group is looking to companies and NGOs who have branches in Nairobi and therefore have knowledge of what kind of help is relevant locally. Some members of the group have a strong wish to visit the project, and in the long run to invite people involved in the Nairobi project to Denmark.

Visit the English-language version of the Danish Heart Foundation’s web site.


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