, NAIROBI, Kenya, May 18 – An untreated sore throat robbed Agatha Maisiba life’s little pleasures such as running around the field with her school mates, doing chores with her siblings and having a normal childhood.
She contracted a severe sore throat when she was three years old. Her mother explains that having given birth to a normal child, the ailment seemed normal, something the local doctor could treat.
But that was not the case. Agatha, now 17, like thousands of children around the country, would go on to contract rheumatic heart disease that stemmed from the ill-treated sore throat.
According to a Paediatrician Cardiologist at The Mater Hospital Dr Louise Mutai, Agatha’s condition was an acquired heart problem which could have been treated had she gotten proper treatment. Instead, the resulting disease made her miss out on having a normal childhood and robbed her the opportunity of being an illustrious teenager.
“I am hardly able to walk a lengthy distance. Taking the stairs is an impossible mission. I don’t participate in most extra curriculum activities at school and keeping up with my studies has always been a real challenge,” Agatha, who comes from the Rift Valley region says.
According to Dr Mutai, patients suffering from rheumatic heart problems either have a heart valve that does not open or close well. They also suffer from constant chest pain, excessive fatigue and heart palpitations among other problems. Most of the children also fail to have developed anatomies, such as Agatha, who at 17 looks like a 13 year-old girl.
Agatha is however not alone. According to the Paediatrician Cardiologist, about three percent of children who suffer from sore throats go on to contract rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart problems.
These especially affect children from cold regions such as the Rift Valley where sore throats are frequent.
“Sadly, preventing sore throats is impossible as some are caused by unpreventable viral infections which are many especially when it is cold,” she says.
What then, can parents therefore do to guard their children against rheumatic heart disease?
“Ensure that you do not ignore sore throats or result to treating them at home. Instead, ensure the ailment is properly treated by a qualified medical practitioner. At the same time, ensure children who have had previous cases of rheumatic fever get properly treated and screened frequently as untreated rheumatic fever can damage the heart permanently.”
Dr Mutai also speaks about congenital heart disease which is a frequent heart disease problem among children.
Unlike rheumatic heart disease, congenital heart disease is not acquired. Children are born with it. The disease involves an anomaly of the heart which can involve the valves, the division inside the heart or even the vessels that supply the heart with blood.
“There’s a myriad of problem associated with this congenital heart disease. This may be a hole in the heart, a tight valve or even confused anatomy whereby there is a missing valve or the presence of two arteries inside one chamber with the other chamber lacking an artery.”