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What is Rheumatic Fever?

Updated: Mar 4, 2019

Rheumatic Fever is a serious, potentially life-threatening disease which is preventable with early diagnosis and the proper treatment. Poor quality, overcrowded housing is recognised as a key contributor to the prevalence of this disease in New Zealand. Those most at risk are Māori and Pasifika children and young people between the ages of 4-19.

Rheumatic fever often starts with a sore throat that is known as ‘strep throat’ caused by bacteria (streptococcal infection). Most sore throats get better on their own after about four days. But if strep throat is not treated with antibiotics it can cause rheumatic fever which can lead to rheumatic heart disease (RHD).

Symptoms of Rheumatic Fever

A few weeks after suffering from strep throat, the following symptoms of rheumatic fever may develop:

· sore or swollen joints

· a skin rash

· a fever

· stomach pain

· jerky movements

Most sufferers will require a stay in hospital and a lot of bed rest. Regular monthly penicillin injections are usually needed to prevent further attacks of the disease.

Rheumatic Heart Disease (RHD)

While the symptoms of rheumatic fever may go away in time, the inflammation can cause permanent damage to the heart valves known as rheumatic heart disease (RHD).

People with RHD may need monthly penicillin injections for 10 or more years. They need regular specialist care and may require heart valve replacement surgery at some stage. Even with treatments and surgery, rheumatic heart disease can still cause premature death.

How our Mana-ā-riki programme helps to combat rheumatic fever

Since the programme was set up in 2016, Mana-ā-riki has been making a real difference to the health and wellbeing of children in Papakura. Mana-ā-riki focuses on the fundamental rights of every New Zealand child including food, shelter, health, support and education.

Daily in-school clinics provide easy access to free healthcare, allowing nurses and kaiārahi to identify and treat children and their whānau with preventable illnesses such as rheumatic fever and RHD. Better health leads to improved school engagement and attendance which are also key contributors to each child’s educational outcome and long-term potential.

Young kids learning in school

From 2014 to 2018 we saw a 65% decrease in rheumatic fever diagnoses in Papakura, where the programme is running, showing the difference increased access to health services is making.

The home strand of our Mana-ā-riki programme tackles the issue of inadequate housing and its impact on children’s health. Children are more susceptible to infectious diseases such as rheumatic fever, pneumonia and meningococcal disease when they are living in cold, damp and overcrowded conditions.

In Papakura a team of Kootuitui ki Papakura Whānau have developed a simple home improvement programme based on their needs which helps to create warmer, drier, healthier homes in the community. Minor repairs such as bubble-wrapping windows and stopping drafts can really warm up a home.

We are now fundraising to extend this programme across other suburbs in South Auckland, and we need your help.

Children in our most disadvantaged communities are three times more likely to end up in hospital.* These are appalling odds. The small but significant changes that our Mana-ā-riki programme delivers are having a powerful impact in our poorer communities and ensuring a better future for our tamariki.

Help change the odds now.

*Child Poverty Monitor, 2017, based on government data in the Household Incomes of New Zealand Report.

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