Expanding school sore throat clinics, improving access to primary healthcare and upgrading and insulating Northland's poor housing stocks could help rid the region of its high rates of the Third World disease rheumatic fever.

Northland has the highest rates of rheumatic fever in the country and last week visiting US expert Dr Stanford Shulman met health professionals to help with solutions.

The answer is already being worked on, but more is needed, with a sore-throats-in-schools programme due to be expanded, and a hui last month with GPs and health providers where a rheumatic fever information poster was adopted.

Northland's rheumatic fever rate of almost 10 per 100,000 is nearly three times the national average, with 78 new cases per 100,000 population of 5-to-15-year-olds every year. About 95 per cent of cases in Northland are Maori.


High rates of the disease have also been identified in low-income parts of Porirua, north of Wellington.

Rheumatic fever is classed as a "Third World" disease. It is caused by a strep throat being left untreated and is directly linked to poverty, through overcrowded homes and poor access to primary healthcare.

It can lead to life-long heart disease and death.