New Zealand and Australia will pump $3 million into finding a potential vaccine for rheumatic fever.

Prime Minister John Key and Australian counterpart Julia Gillard announced the transtasman initiative in Queenstown today during their annual talks.

The two governments will contribute equal shares of $3m in funding over the next two years to identify a potential vaccine for the disease, which can lead to long-term heart damage known as rheumatic heart disease.

In New Zealand, rheumatic heart disease kills about 150 people per year, while hospitalisation for both rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease costs about $12m.


In Australia, the prevalence of rheumatic fever was 25 times higher among indigenous people than other Australians.

Mr Key said rheumatic fever was a significant issue for Maori, Pacific, Australian Aboriginal, and Torres Strait Islander communities.

He said an an effective vaccine would be "a major step forward for the health of these communities in both countries and across the Pacific".

Ms Gillard said: "This joint Australian and New Zealand Government investment will fund the evaluation of three potential vaccine candidates currently under development to identify one that could then proceed to clinical trials."

The governments would await the outcomes of the research before considering ongoing support for the development of a vaccine, including clinical trials.

The leaders said the initiative was an important step in transtasman scientific collaboration, cost-sharing and harnessing the scientific minds from both countries to try to find solutions to common challenges.