Counties Manukau Health and the National Hauora Coalition (NHC) are warning the public about false information being spread about fictional Covid-19 tests in South Auckland schools.
Social media posts appear to be targeting Mana Kidz, which provides a rheumatic fever prevention programme across 88 primary and intermediate schools in the South Auckland area.
The scheme has been operating since 2012 and uses throat swabs to detect Streptococcus bacteria, commonly known as strep throat, the precursor to rheumatic fever. It appears some parents have mistaken the procedure for a Covid-19 test.
Online posts claim schools are testing children for the virus without parental consent and then removing those who test positive without notifying their parents.
In a joint statement, Counties Manukau Health and primary healthcare organisation the National Hauora Coalition have publicly spoken out against the misinformation.
"NHC and Counties Manukau Health emphatically state that no children involved in our Mana Kidz programme are being swabbed for Covid-19 or being removed from school.
"This misinformation is not only incorrect, but it also risks seriously undermining an important health initiative."
According to NHC, for a child to be tested as part of the Mana Kidz programme, caregivers must give written consent.
"Caregivers are offered information and a consent form for the programme when their tamariki enrol at the school. Any student whose caregiver has not consented to their involvement in the programme is not offered a throat swab or any other assessment or treatment."
The National Hauora Coalition works with a wide range of agencies, iwi and groups to commission and deliver health and social services to improve the lives of Māori.
The Local Democracy Reporting Project understands the story grew from a Facebook video and the NHC was notified by a group which monitors online conspiracy theories.
The National Hauora Coalition's clinical director Dr Rawiri McKree Jansen said it is concerned at the impact misinformation spread on social media can have, not only on Mana Kidz, but also more widely on other important health programmes.
"We do think it's important though that we hear and respond to concerns parents might have. We have been supporting the schools in doing that by sharing factual information with all parents and helping them contact every single parent who has expressed concerns," McKree Jansen said.
"This has seen the number of enquiries drop significantly.
"What does concern us though is that the schools are reportedly being contacted by abusive members of the public who are not parents. This abuse is based on the misinformation circulating on social media."
He said it is important to note that parents provide consent, at enrolment, for their children to be part of Mana Kidz.
"The information provided to parents addresses all the matters necessary for informed consent and they are made aware they can withdraw consent at any time.
"The Mana Kidz programme covers a wide range of child health areas including health education, health promotion, vision checks, hearing checks, skin infection treatment and management, hygiene and overall general health assessments."
Rheumatic fever is a disease that can have life-long effects. It disproportionately affects Māori and Pasifika, who make up 95 per cent of cases.
The condition starts with a sore throat and kills, on average, 130 people a year in New Zealand.
Rheumatic fever is often linked to poverty, deprivation and sub-standard housing. South Auckland is one of the national hotspots for the disease.
The disease grows from an infection of the Streptococcal bacteria. If the condition isn't treated with antibiotics it can then develop into rheumatic fever, an auto-immune disease which can lead to inflammation of the heart, joints, brain and skin.
• For more information on the rheumatic fever prevention programme, contact Counties Manukau Health or Mana Kidz, or phone 0800 MK TEAM.