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$12m boost to reduce rheumatic fever

Hon Tariana Turia
Associate Minister of Health
19 May 2011

$12m boost to reduce rheumatic fever

Associate Health Minister Tariana Turia today announced a $12 million programme to reduce the rates of rheumatic fever in more vulnerable communities.

“This is an entirely preventable disease that can have serious consequences for children during childhood and throughout their lifetime. A simple sore throat can lead to permanent heart damage,” Mrs Turia says.

“The rates of rheumatic fever are now 14 times higher in New Zealand than in any other OECD country and we simply must do something about that.

“All the evidence tells us that acute rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease are increasing health issues for New Zealand, both in terms of cost and equity.

“It is of particular concern to me, as minister with responsibilities relating to Māori health, that the large disparity between ethnic groups appears to have worsened over the past 20 years. The mean incidence rates for Māori and Pasifika children aged between five and 14 are now between 20 and 40 times higher than for other New Zealand children of the same age.”

The new programme, which will be funded over four years, will support a number of initiatives such as increasing front line community staff, school-based sore throat clinics and a range of research and training programmes for health professionals and community workers.

Rheumatic fever is caused by a reaction to a streptococcus A throat infection and because an effective vaccine is yet to be developed vigilance is the key to prevention. About 70 per cent of children who get rheumatic fever will have some heart damage, but with proper treatment of a sore throat the risk is reduced by 80 per cent.

“The Government has recognised the urgent need to stamp out rheumatic fever from our most vulnerable communities,” Mrs Turia says.

“There have been some outstanding initiatives introduced around the country - such as the Whangaroa Project, which involved a clinical network, schools and iwi working together to support a sore throat clinic, or the Sore Throats Matter campaign run by Waikato DHB.

“Budget 2011 will help coordinate these efforts and place priority on interventions that show the potential to eradicate rheumatic fever.”

ENDS

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