An Olympian, a Wiggle, a Scientist and a CEO put best feet forward to help end RHD

21 Mar 2024

In an inspiring initiative to combat rheumatic heart disease (RHD) among First Nations communities, Heart Foundation CEO David Lloyd, Olympian and Aboriginal woman Nova Peris, ‘OG’ Yellow Wiggle Greg Page, and Chief Executive of the Australian Academy of Science, Anna-Maria Arabia, trekked 30km as team “Let’s End RHD” in the inaugural Coastrek Canberra event last Friday, 15 March.  

RHD - a preventable condition stemming from poor living conditions and lack of access to basic facilities - is identified as a critical health issue that disproportionately affects First Nations communities.  It is also twice as common in women as in men, and up to 78% of women with RHD in Australia are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander. 

The Coastrek/Heart Foundation partnership raises funds to close the gender gap in women’s health and support research and initiatives to help end heart disease, including initiatives such as the Remote Laundries Project operated by the Aboriginal Investment Group in the Northern Territory.  

The Project installs shipping containers, converted into mobile laundries, in remote communities to help collect, wash, disinfect and dry clothing and bed linen for community members to reduce the spread of scabies, a skin infection that can lead to acute rheumatic fever and ultimately rheumatic heart disease.   

The Project needs further funding to hasten its expansion and replicate the success of the first Remote Laundry established five years ago in the community of Barunga which has seen a reduction in scabies infections by around 60 percent. 

The Nova Peris Foundation is particularly keen to support a Laundry for a community in Arnhem Land which has some of the highest rates of RHD:  

“This is such a simple yet effective way of combatting a disease that is killing people in Australia.  The Nova Peris Foundation’s first site would be the community of Yirakalla to benefit the Yolgnu people who have one of the highest rates of RHD in Arnhem Land.,” says Peris.  

Former member of The Wiggles, Greg Page, who experienced a life-threatening cardiac arrest during a performance in 2020, now heads up Heart of the Nation, and uses his personal experience to help save more lives from heart disease:   

“I was honoured to walk alongside such a great team of people, representing and raising funds for a cause that has simple steps to implement, and will make a positive impact on preventing RHD in Australia.”  

Heart Foundation CEO, David Lloyd said Australia now has a blueprint for how to end RHD and community-led health initiatives are the best way forward: 

“But like any health issue, RHD requires more awareness to be considered a funding priority among Governments and philanthropists. That’s why I was thrilled to be walking Coastrek Canberra with three friends who share the Heart Foundation and Coastrek’s passion for contributing to the fight for First Nations communities against rheumatic heart disease” 

Coastrek Founder, Di Westaway OAM, who has witnessed the benefits of combining fitness, friends and fundraising since the first Coastrek event back in 2009 said: 

“It’s wonderful that Coastrek is not only contributing to the health and wellness of those participating, it’s also raising funds to make a difference in remote communities by supporting initiatives to help end RHD.  We will continue to raise more valuable funds from Coastrek events throughout 2024 to help end RHD and improve heart health outcomes for women in Australia.” 

Fundraising remains open and contributions can be made to the ‘Let’s End RHD’ team here