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Heart Kids applauds announcement of $12m funding boost

The money, announced by Associate Health Minister Jenny Salesa yesterday (Saturday 18th May), will go towards supporting programmes that will reduce the incidence of rheumatic fever among Maori and Pacific people and better management of the illness.

Heart Kids supports those children who contract Rheumatic Heart Disease and the 1 in 100 children born in New Zealand with a congenital heart defect.

Heart Kids CEO Kate Figgins says for years the charity has been pushing for more funding to fight the disease. “We have been the ambulance at the bottom of the rheumatic cliff. We see first hand how RHD derails entire families and we’re left to pick up the pieces. It’s heart breaking, especially when you know it could’ve been prevented. This initiative will provide a much needed boost to fighting the disease and improving health outcomes for our young and vulnerable.”

Pacific people make up 57 per cent of rheumatic fever cases and Māori make up 37 per cent. This is in stark contrast to the rest of the population which represent just five percent of cases. The latest data for the 2018 calendar year suggests the rates of rheumatic fever in Pacific people are increasing.

The health initiative is focused on the Auckland region because two-thirds of rheumatic fever cases occur there. A third of Heart Kids families dealing with the disease are from South Auckland and Heart Kids Family Support worker Montee Stehlin is at the coal face.

“Families whose children get struck down with RHD are affected in so many ways, not just physically, but emotionally and financially as well. A child goes from being fit and healthy one day, to being a permanent spectator the next, with constant trips to the hospital and possibly facing a shortened life. Then there is the emotional affect. The guilt many parents feel is huge. With RHD there are often no symptoms presenting prior to the diagnosis. The parent feels they’ve neglected their child, and as a result that child’s life will be scarred forever. And finally, there’s the financial stress. The loss of income for parents who have to reduce hours to care for their sick child. In some cases, parents have lost their jobs because of the level of care needed.”

Rheumatic Fever causes the joints, brain skin and heart to become inflamed and swollen, which can cause rheumatic heart disease, a scarring of the heart valves which can cause premature death.

“We look forward to working with local communities on this new rheumatic fever initiative and lowering the rates of this entirely preventable disease,” said Kate Figgins.

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