Rotorua Daily Post health and business reporter

Cash injection to tackle rheumatic fever

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Kids get checked for strep throat which can lead to rheumatic fever at the Western Heights Health Centre.  Photo/File
Kids get checked for strep throat which can lead to rheumatic fever at the Western Heights Health Centre. Photo/File

A cash injection to held raise awareness of rheumatic fever among Maori communities in Rotorua and Taupo is being welcomed by Lakes District Health Board.

But the organisation says while extra funding to raise awareness is good, the illness won't go away until the underlying issues such as housing standards and poverty are resolved.

Lakes District Health Board is set to get a share of a $1 million fund aimed at increasing awareness and reducing rheumatic fever in high-risk Maori communities. The one-of fund was announced by Health Minister Jonathan Coleman today.

He said rheumatic fever was a serious but preventable disease.

A health board spokeswoman said the board had not yet met with the Ministry so didn't know enough about the funding to comment specifically but said any additional funding for the area was "very welcome".

Each year the health board saw "a handful" of new cases of rheumatic fever in children and young people, she said.

"Rheumatic fever can result in lifelong cardiac valve damage."

Some children with rheumatic fever require surgery in childhood while others needed surgery in adulthood.

"This is an unnecessary outcome for the majority of people who get it - in countries where housing standards are higher and poverty is not an issue, the illness has almost completely disappeared."

She said 50 per cent of the illnesses were also preventable if children with sore throats from a Group A Streptococcus were seen and treated as soon as possible and completed their antibiotic course, which is why significant resource had been put into community education and trying to ensure that the health system responded well to the sore throat problem.

She said additional funding would almost certainly be used for that, but the problem was unlikely to be resolved permanently until the underlying issues were addressed.

Dr Coleman said the fund targeted the six district health board regions where most of the

Maori rheumatic fever cases occurred - Northland, Counties Manukau, Waikato, Lakes, Bay of Plenty and Tairawhiti.

"These DHBs will distribute funding to Maori community groups for small-scale initiatives to test innovative solutions for increasing awareness and helping to prevent rheumatic fever.

"Community groups are expected to start delivering initiatives from July through to October."

- Rotorua Daily Post

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