The push to reduce the incidence of rheumatic fever in New Zealand involves collaboration between a wide range of agencies and local communities on a number of initiatives.
The Auckland region, particularly South Auckland, has the highest rate of rheumatic fever nationwide. Children and young people who are most at risk of developing rheumatic fever are Māori, Pacific, and those living in low socioeconomic areas. Extra effort is required to help achieve the national target of reducing the incidence of rheumatic fever by two thirds by 2017.
Pacific children and young people are 44 times more likely to be admitted to hospital with acute rheumatic fever than children and young people of other ethnicities. Because of this, the Ministry of Health has developed a programme to engage with Pacific families in the greater Auckland and Wellington regions. Trained community health workers will be raising awareness of rheumatic fever and how to manage sore throats. This programme takes place in homes and community settings for families at risk of developing rheumatic fever. Community workers in Auckland have been delivering this service into Pacific homes since 1 October 2013 and it will start in Wellington later in October.
Another initiative is the throat-swabbing programme for children in schools in high-risk areas. Throat swabbing tests for Group A Streptoccus infection or "strep throat", which can cause rheumatic fever. The three District Health Boards in the greater Auckland area are delivering a large scale throat-swabbing programme across Auckland's schools. By early next year over 200 schools and 50,000 children nationwide will be taking part, including 82 schools and over 30,000 children in greater Auckland.
It is also a priority to provide quick, easy, free access to sore throat treatment for those at-risk children and young people who do not attend schools in the throat swabbing programme. The three metro Auckland DHBs are now providing this rapid response sore throat service, with new clinics rolling out across the greater Auckland area, funded by the Ministry of Health. See more information about sore throat clinics in your area here.