Back to top

WHF Interview with Dr Liesl Zuhlke: Focus on RHD at WCC 2016

18 April 2016
Dr Liesl Zuhlke

World Congress of Cardiology and Cardiovascular Health 2016: Congress Program Committee

Interview with Dr Liesl Zuhlke, MBChB, DCH, FCPaeds, MPH, FESC, PhD (Topic Leader: Other cardiac diseases including Rheumatic Heart Fever and Chagas disease)

I am a paediatric cardiologist, I trained at the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital in Cape Town South Africa as well as Uniklinum Dusseldorf, in Germany. I work as a full-time researcher at the University of Cape Town, primarily on Rheumatic heart disease (RHD). In that capacity, I work with the PASCAR (Pan-African Society of Cardiology, a continental member of the World Heart Federation) Rheumatic Heart Disease task force, RhEACH (Rheumatic heart disease Evidence, Advocacy, Communication and Hope) and RHD Action a global initiative to end RHD co-founded by RhEACH, Medtronic Philanthropy and the World Heart Federation.
What made you want to be part of the WCC 2016 Congress Programme Committee?

The World Congress of Cardiology and Cardiovascular Health is a unique opportunity to bring key stakeholders from all over the world together to discuss cardiovascular health, the issues that affect CVD and new innovative ways to address the “health systems and structures” element of health. Having been a part of this special event with colleagues from all over the world at WCC 2012 in Dubai and WCC 2014 in Melbourne has made me want to contribute to the planning of the programme in 2016. It was a great honour to be invited to be part of the CPC and I hope to have contributed in a small way to this important meeting.

What makes WCC 2016 special?

It is the first time since 1962 that it will be held in Mexico and I am sure this will bring a special flavour to the event. WCC’s title has expanded to include “cardiovascular health”, which speaks to the need to consider health within a complex system, not limited to one clinical specialty.

From my point of view, there are some very special sessions. Pre-congress workshops on pediatric cardiology and cardiac surgery in collaboration with the World Congress of Pediatric Cardiology and Cardiac Surgery - this is a real highlight. The first day is an entire day focused on rheumatic heart disease, which includes health systems discussions, genetics and advocacy.

Which is the session you are most looking forward to?

Rheumatic heart disease features strongly through the meeting but there are two particularly interesting sessions, utilizing different techniques rather than didactic lectures. One is “The dragons den” where young researchers are encouraged to think out of the box and pitch a proposal to some fierce dragons - with audience voting for the grant money on (virtual) offer. The second is an interactive echo session where the leaders in the field of screening for rheumatic heart disease will deliver short talks interspersed with echoes again with voting and comments from the audience. Delegates are encouraged to interact with the speakers of this session prior to Mexico and send in difficult echoes, new protocols, suggestions and comments. We will also use this session to build on a consensus statement around screening for asymptomatic rheumatic heart disease in developing countries.

What led you to your profession (be that cardiology, nursing, public health…)?

I am first and foremost a pediatrician, with a great love for children and the joy of interacting with them. I found cardiology a challenging but highly rewarding sub-specialty, which combined a love for technology, practical application, puzzle-solving, academia and long-term relationships with patients. The special privilege of being in some cases able to follow a patient from antenatal diagnosis through to adulthood is truly gratifying. My work with rheumatic heart disease is also extremely challenging as it is a disease that reflects a health system disorder and thus new and innovative cross-disciplinary approaches are required. Finally the fact that patients are and should always remain at the heart of whatever we do, always helps to ground me and remind me of why we do what we do- patient-centered healthcare is the very best kind of health-care we can deliver. Our profession is always challenging, new and humbling. I would not want to do anything else.

What do you feel is the biggest challenge facing cardiovascular health (or specifically your specialty) today?

There remains a lack of awareness regarding the magnitude of the problem of CVD in developing countries, even a middle-income country like South Africa. Our countries and several others are dealing with several pandemics, the infectious diseases of HIV/TB and Malaria, non-communicable diseases especially CVD and then violence, injury and mental health. In order to combat these successfully, we need to be fully cogniscent of the problem and strive to build resilient health systems with equality and accessibility for all people. 
How will WCC 2016 affect your daily practice?

I believe WCC 2016 will give each delegate new and exciting information, encourage networking with colleagues and inspire, encourage and motivate each delegate to strive for cardiovascular health in their patient, practice and region. Do come along - we look forward to seeing you there!

This interview was first published on the World Heart Federation website, details below:

For further information:
WHF interviews Dr Liesl Zuhlke in advance of WCC
World Heart Federation: World Congress of Cardiology and Cardiovascular Health 2016
World Congress of Cardiology and Cardiovascular Health 2016: Scientific Program