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Race to save children from killer disease

3 November 2016

Kiwi celebrity couple’s Fiji race to save children from killer disease

The Bachelor couple Art Green and Matilda Rice have returned from a “life-changing” trip to Fiji where they took part in the ultimate test of endurance to raise money and awareness of rheumatic heart disease – a disease that affects one in 50 Fijian children.

The Cure Kids ambassadors joined 100 other competitors and crew from the Pacific region in the AccorHotels Race to Survive for Cure Kids Fiji to raise over $564,000 (FJ$841,000) for Cure Kids Fiji.

The funds will go towards the life-saving work the organisation is doing in partnership with the Fiji Ministry of Health and Medical Services to control and prevent rheumatic heart disease - a leading cause of death in young people in Fiji.

The active couple completed action-packed feats; abseiling, scaling coconut trees and installing water tanks in remote villages – with the wellbeing of children top of mind during the five-day competition.

“The biggest challenge of the Race for me was swimming,” says Rice. “I’ve never been a strong swimmer, but I did a lot of swim training leading up to the event and I gave it everything in Fiji and gained confidence in the water. The biggest challenge for Art was exercising in the intense heat!”

Rheumatic Heart Disease (RHD) is a preventable condition, yet Fiji and its Pacific neighbours have among the highest recorded rates of the disease in the world.

“Seeing the work that Cure Kids does in Fiji and meeting happy, smiling kids was life-changing for us. Cure Kids do incredible work to improve these kids’ lives,” says Green.

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Each year in New Zealand, over 100 children are diagnosed with rheumatic fever, an autoimmune disease that can occur after a group A streptococcal infection. Approximately 50% of those cases lead to RHD, which can cause permanent damage to the heart, morbidity, disability and mortality.

In partnership with leading RHD experts from New Zealand, Australia and Fiji, Cure Kids runs a research-based programme, which supports all aspects of RHD control and prevention. Best practice approaches used in tackling RHD in New Zealand guide the efforts in Fiji.

Associate Professor Nigel Wilson, Children’s Heart Specialist at Starship Hospital and technical advisor to the Project, says primary prevention campaigns in New Zealand, such as sore throat awareness, have been effective in leading to a decrease from 170 cases of rheumatic fever in children several years ago to 100 cases today.

“Rates have fallen, but we don’t know if the reduction will be sustained. In New Zealand, we have a great system of community nurses that give prevention medication. However, in Fiji, the dedicated RHD nurses are thin on the ground and preventing rheumatic fever has had low rates of success, but with this Project, we can support nurses in communities, for example, through training, and encourage community members to go back to clinics for the medication they need.”

The four-year $3.2 million project is co-funded by MFAT’s Partnerships for International Development Fund and would not be possible without the public donations and fundraisers like AccorHotels Race to Survive for Cure Kids Fiji.

“The Race saw people from all over the Pacific push themselves outside of their comfort zone for the children of Fiji,” says Murray Davison, Director of Procurement, AccorHotels New Zealand, Fiji and French Polynesia.

“Competitors watched RHD screening (a simple ultrasound of the heart) when they visited Kese Village on Naviti Island. Sadly, seven cases were diagnosed, but because of this project, the right treatment can be started.”

This year marks 10 years since Cure Kids launched in Fiji with key partner AccorHotels and the biennial AccorHotels Race to Survive for Cure Kids Fiji started. In that time, over $1.6 million (FJ$2.5m) has been raised for child health projects.


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