The FAST Heroes educate young minds on how to spot a stroke



Published Aug 31, 2023


According to a study published in the Journal of Stroke and Cerebrovascular Diseases, stroke is now the second leading cause of death worldwide, and the primary cause of chronic functional limitations.

Shockingly, every hour the brain is deprived of blood, between the appearance of stroke symptoms and receiving treatment, causes the ischemic (restricted or reduced blood flood in a part of the body) brain to age by 3.6 years.

Unfortunately, many stroke patients arrive at the hospital too late for timely care. Lack of public awareness about stroke symptoms has been identified as a major factor contributing to these delayed arrivals and subsequent delayed medical treatment.

According to a study published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry, the ‘Act FAST’ public education campaign was created to help stroke patients get medical help faster.

This campaign was developed in the UK in February 2009, and has since been used in other countries such as the US and Australia. Its goal is to reduce the time it takes for stroke patients to get treatment, which can increase their chances of recovery.

The FAST program is an acronym that stands for Face, Arms, Speech and Time. It is a widely recognised and effective method for identifying stroke symptoms and encouraging prompt action.

Building on the resounding success of its 2022 pilot campaign, the award-winning health education initiative, FAST Heroes, is gearing up for its 2023 nationwide crusade. Primary schools across the country are being called upon to register and join this heroic mission.

Endorsed and supported by the World Stroke Organisation, FAST Heroes has set an ambitious goal of enlisting a million young heroes who will play a crucial role in protecting their grandparents from the devastating impact of stroke.

The five-week curriculum, guided by teachers, will educate children from the age of 5 to 9 to learn to recognise stroke symptoms and understand the importance of calling an ambulance immediately.

The campaign introduces children to the three most prevalent stroke symptoms through the engaging analogy of “the evil Clot” striking.

Guided by a cast of animated characters, including retired superhero grandparents and their grandchildren - Timmy and Tanya - children become adept at identifying the three key signs of a stroke: facial drooping, arm weakness, and speech impairment, said Professor Pamela Naidoo, CEO of the Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa, before the launch of the programme.

“The characters show the importance of promptly calling an ambulance. This vital process gave rise to the acronym FAST, reflecting the symptoms of a stroke and the urgency of getting prompt medical attention,” she said.

Statistics show that stroke is a serious concern in South Africa and globally, ranking as the second-leading cause of death and the third-leading cause of disability worldwide.

Unfortunately, many stroke victims don't receive timely medical care due to a lack of awareness of the key signs. Children hold the power to change this by educating their families.

Studies have shown that public awareness campaigns, including the FAST program, have improved recognition of stroke symptoms. As a result of awareness campaigns, at least 30% more stroke patients arrive at hospital within the recommended time frame.

Additionally, more research shows that there has been a decrease in the time taken to reach medical help after the implementation of public awareness campaigns such as FAST.

The CDC recommends performing these tests if you suspect someone may be having a stroke:

F—Face: Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?

A—Arms: Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?

S—Speech: Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Is the speech slurred or strange?

T—Time: If you see any of these signs, call an ambulance right away: 10177

Pay attention to the time any symptoms first appear. This information helps health-care providers determine the best treatment for each person.

This reduction in time is crucial as it allows for faster medical intervention, increasing the chances of a positive outcome. Plus educating children about stroke signs can also help them understand the importance of preventive measures.

Children can learn about lifestyle factors that contribute to stroke risk, such as smoking, unhealthy diet, lack of physical activity, and high blood pressure.

By promoting healthy habits and encouraging their elderly loved ones to adopt a healthier lifestyle, children can contribute to reducing the risk of stroke in their families.

The FAST Heroes campaign was conceptualised by the Department of Education and Social Policy at the University of Macedonia in Europe.

The campaign's implementation in South Africa is made possible through the support of the Angels Initiative by Boehringer Ingelheim. The Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa, a non-profit organisation, is the chosen local partner for this initiative.

To learn more about this life-changing campaign or to register, visit