Early detection of Rheumatic fever in Waiariki pays off

By Wena Harawira
  • Waikato/Bay of Plenty

In the Bay of Plenty, schools are being praised for their support in preventing rheumatic heart disease. Dr John Malcolm of the Bay of Plenty District Health Board says throat swabbing of kids in schools has meant early diagnosis and that's halved the rate of the disease.

Te Rauaroha Mariu-Smallman is getting her throat swabbed by Tina Biddle of Tūhoe Hauora to test for strep-A. Māori children aged 5 to 14 who have the bug are most likely to develop rheumatic fever.

Dr Malcolm says, “In the time a child is at school in the Eastern Bay in Ruatahuna they have a 1 in 40 chance of getting RF, or if you're in Kawerau about 1 in 80, or Opotiki, 1 in 100, that order of magnitude.”

10 children are estimated to die from the acute rheumatic fever or rheumatic heart disease. It takes its toll on adults as well.

“If you compare Māori with rheumatic heart disease and Pākehā with rheumatic heart disease, Māori died 22 years earlier.”

Over five years, schools in the Tūhoe, Whakatōhea and Tūwharetoa ki Kawerau regions have supported throat swabbing to prevent the disease and it's having an effect. But there's no prevention campaign within Ngāti Awa schools and rheumatic fever rates for children have doubled. It's an important comparison.

“Those areas with school programmes, we saw the rates halve and we've got good statistical evidence to show that.”

John Malcolm hopes the government will continue to see the benefits of school-based prevention of rheumatic fever.