Throat testing introduced at schools

23:12, Dec 11 2012
Rheumatic fever testing
FOR HEALTH: Balloons are released at Te Kura Kaupapa o Taumarere in Moerewa to mark the launch of the rheumatic fever prevention throat swabbing programme.

Sore throats matter. That's the simple message being repeated at six Tai Tokerau schools moving forward.

Te Kura Kaupapa Maori o Taumarere, Moerewa School, Kawakawa Primary School, Karetu School, Te Kura o Waikare and Maromaku School are taking part in a rheumatic fever prevention throat swabbing in schools programme administered by the Ngati Hine Health Trust. The national initiative is important to many in the Far North.

Helen Herbert is the national rheumatic fever co-ordinator. She's from Whangaroa, a community that once suffered from the disease, but is now clean. In 2011 the Government announced $12 million in funding over four years for the country's most affected communities. And another $12m was later added to total $24m the Government is spending in rheumatic fever prevention.

The disease is associated with poverty, the social, especially housing, conditions that children live in.

Maori children are 20 times more likely to catch it than their European counterparts, Pasifika children are 37 per cent more likely to catch it.

Communities in Northland, the Bay of Plenty, Waikato, South Auckland Tai Rawhiti, Hawkes Bay and East Purerua were identified and with this week's additional 6039 children at 42 schools covered by the rheumatic fever services, now 16,477 kids at 91 schools are receiving preventive care.

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By June 2013, 44,771 kids at 161 schools across the nation are expected to be visited several times a week by caregivers who will swab test children with sore throats to test for rheumatic fever.

Ten days on antibiotics can save a child from damage to heart valves which can lead to a higher chance of heart failure as an adult.

Ms Herbert's son was 8 years old when he contracted rheumatic fever.

He is now 22 years old and in July of this year he called his mother to say he had received his last penicillin injection, which he endured for 11 years.

"That's how serious this is," Ms Herbert says.

Her son did not suffer heart valve damage.

Diana Heta is the regional co-ordinator for rheumatic fever for the Ngati Hine Health Trust.

She says that it's designed not to interrupt classes, it will become routine and something that raises kids' awareness of the importance of being mindful of sore throats.

The visits three times a week should help to keep health in the front of kids' minds, she says.

"The kids know it's not a scary process either."

Northern News