Simon Collins

Simon Collins is the Herald’s social issues reporter.

Charity to plug health gaps

KidsCan will use its extra government cash for nurses and supplies at high-risk schools.

Classmates were left unchecked after Tihei Daniels-Kapea, 5, was suspected to have caught rheumatic fever. Photo / Greg Bowker
Classmates were left unchecked after Tihei Daniels-Kapea, 5, was suspected to have caught rheumatic fever. Photo / Greg Bowker

The KidsCan charity plans to use money from the child poverty plan announced this week to plug holes in health services, which have become virtually nonexistent for at least one South Auckland school.

Papakura's Kelvin Rd School, whose parents' incomes place it in the poorest tenth of schools, had only one visit from a public health nurse last term and has not heard from a nurse at all this term.

It and all other Papakura schools have been left out of a throat-swabbing programme to catch children with rheumatic fever, a highly contagious condition that can cause lasting heart damage and has disappeared in most developed nations.

New entrant Tihei Daniels-Kapea was hospitalised with suspected rheumatic fever after he started coughing blood two weeks ago, but no other pupils were checked to see whether they might have caught it.

It is understood he was found to have another condition.

KidsCan schools and programmes manager Natalie Vincent said the Albany-based charity wanted to use a $500,000-a-year government grant, announced in a package that will also partially fund breakfast programmes, to partner with other agencies to fill such gaps.

"Some schools have really good public health nurse services and others don't," she said. "With the additional funding, we are hoping to not only provide actual products for schools, but we are looking for how we can provide prescription funds and have more school nurses able to treat these conditions."

KidsCan, which started in 2005 to provide food for hungry children, has identified health as another area of need in many of its 279 low-income schools.

The charity already gives food, shoes and raincoats to Kelvin Rd School and has just given the school its first support with health - a parcel of sticking plasters, tissues and hand sanitiser to help with problems such as school sores.

The school's 400 pupils had regular throat swabs as part of an Auckland University research programme on rheumatic fever from the late 1990s, but that ended in 2002.

It has missed out on a yearly $3.3 million allocation to Counties Manukau from last year's rheumatic fever budget because the district health board has put the money, with 20.5 of its 38.5 fulltime-equivalent public health nurses, into a programme called "Mana Kidz", which has put nurses into 53 schools in Otara, Mangere and Manurewa to do throat swabs and treat skin infections.

Board portfolio manager Sue Miller said in February that the board was trying to find money to extend the programme to eight high-risk schools in Papakura.

Project manager Phil Light, of the National Hauora Coalition, said this week that the project wanted to partner with other organisations to serve Papakura.

"KidsCan is certainly an organisation we need to start talking to," he said.

A Health Ministry spokesman said an extra $21.3 million for rheumatic fever in this year's Budget did not include any more money for schools.

Instead, the money would be used for an awareness campaign and for free "drop-in clinics" in parts of Auckland and Porirua where parents will be able to take their children for throat swabs.

Counties Manukau District Health Board said 18 fulltime-equivalent public health nurses, seven community support workers and three Health Promoting Schools officers were supporting Papakura's eight high-risk schools and a further 126 schools outside the Mana Kidz area.

- NZ Herald

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