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Opinion-Editorial: Hon Tariana Turia - Sore Throats Matter

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Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
Tariana Turia
Tariana Turia

In recent weeks there has been much discussion about the high incidence of Rheumatic Fever in this country.

It makes me very sad to learn that this terrible disease has dramatically increased and that the rates of rheumatic fever are now 14 times higher in New Zealand than any other OECD country.

While no one likes negative publicity, in this case I am happy that the issue is receiving significant attention as we all have a role to play in ridding our communities of this disease.

Rheumatic fever is caused by a reaction to a 'streptococcus A' throat infection and because an effective vaccine is yet to be developed vigilance is the key to prevention. It might be as simple as being alert to a sore throat or ongoing cough - the real key lies in being aware.

About 70 per cent of children who get rheumatic fever will have some heart damage, however with proper treatment of a sore throat the risk is reduced by 80 per cent.

Children with rheumatic fever are treated with monthly penicillin shots until they reach their 20s saving them from having to have heart-valve replacements or transplants.

It is therefore vital that parents with children who have sore throats take them to the doctor as soon as they can and that if prescribed antibiotics that they complete the full course as prescribed.

In Kaeo, in the North, a sore throat clinic has successfully managed to prevent any further cases of rheumatic fever so I can't reinforce enough how important it is to be vigilant.

It is the success of this programme which has prompted me as Associate Health Minister to ask Ministry of Health officials to develop a national education and awareness campaign highlighting that sore throats matter.

Ministry of Health officials are also working across a range of Government agencies in prevention, treatment and management as well as working with District Health Boards and public health groups to initiate local approaches to meet local needs.

Interventions employed across a range of government agencies such as health, housing, education and labour in local communities will assist in early prevention especially in vulnerable communities.

This week health professionals such as DHBs, paediatricians, Maori health providers, researchers and medical officers of health will be holding a workshop to discuss strategies to address the high rates.

And as you know we are just months away from rolling out Whanau Ora which is designed specifically to make it easier for whanau and families to access the services they need through enhanced co-ordination of government agencies.

I am hopeful that this comprehensive programme of work and extra vigilance in the communities and within families will reduce the number of children with rheumatic fever and help us to rid our communities of this third world disease once and for all.

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