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Funding boosts Say Ahh Rheumatic fever prevention programme

Extra funding boosts 'Say Ahh' Rheumatic fever prevention programme

School children at six Flaxmere schools will continue to have their throats swabbed whenever they get a sore throat as part of an extra $12 million of government funding to combat rheumatic fever.

The Hawkes Bay 'Say Ahh' programme is the first of eight newly funded services around the country which detect and prevent rheumatic fever.

Announcing the extra $335,000 over two years for 'Say Ahh' at Irongate Primary School today, Health Minister Tony Ryall said that since the throat swab programme was launched last October there had been no notified cases of rheumatic fever from students who attended the participating Flaxmere schools.

"We want that to become permanent. The prevalence of rheumatic fever in Hawke's Bay is higher than other regions in New Zealand and in the year prior to 'Say Ahh' starting, there were eight notified cases of rheumatic fever in Flaxmere," said Mr Ryall.

Associate Health Minister Tariana Turia said, "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.

"It is of particular concern to me, as Minister with responsibilities relating to Maori health, that the large disparity between ethnic groups appears to have worsened over the past 20 years. The mean incidence rates for Maori 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.

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"This Government has recognised the urgent need to stamp out rheumatic fever from our most vulnerable communities," Mrs Turia said.


Rheumatic fever starts with a simple sore throat - a streptococcus A infection and, untreated with antibiotics, can lead to permanent heart damage.

The treatment is ten years of painful penicillin injections and/or possible heart surgery.

Maori and Pacific people - mostly children - living in cold overcrowded homes are most likely to get it - and they are 20 and 37 times more likely to be admitted to hospital with first time acute rheumatic fever than anyone else.

The Rheumatic fever initiative is one of several preventive health programmes introduced by the National-led government.

About 70% of children who get Rheumatic fever will suffer some heart damage But with proper treatment of a sore throat, that risk is reduced by 80 per cent.

"Rates for this serious and largely preventable third world disease have actually increased in the past ten years," said Mr Ryall.

The extra $12 million the Government is spending will support increasing frontline health care in communities to prevent rheumatic fever, including school-based sore throat clinics, improving training for health workers and
community workers, and supporting research and monitoring.

The Ministry of Health is seeking requests for tenders in six other local areas where there are clusters of rheumatic fever cases. (Whangarei, Counties Manukau, Hamilton, Rotorua, Whakatane and Gisborne).


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