The Labour Party will reinstate a national target for reducing rheumatic fever rates, leader Jacinda Ardern said today.

"In New Zealand, there should be no such thing as rheumatic fever," she told supporters at the Otara markets in South Auckland this morning. "It is a disease of poverty."

Nine out of 10 cases of rheumatic fever - which is usually caused by living in cold, damp homes - were Maori or Pacific Island children.

"It has become a disease of South Auckland," Ardern said.


National made reducing rheumatic fever rates one of its top 10 targets for the public sector but after some initial success, rates have begun rising again. The target was discontinued this year.

Ardern said National had failed to meet the target because it had focused too much on swabbing children and not enough on affordable, warm, dry housing.

"We will never deal with rheumatic fever until we deal with overcrowded housing and the inability of families to keep their homes warm and dry."

Labour wants to introduce stricter minimum standards for heating and insulation in rental properties. It would also provide grants to help low-income families with power bills over the winter months.

The National-led Government set a goal of reducing the rheumatic fever rate from four cases per 100,000 people to 1.4 cases per 100,000 people by mid-2017.

The rate hit a low of 2.4 cases per 100,000 people in mid-2015, but has since risen again to 3.4 cases per 100,000 people.