20 May 2011

Rheumatic fever funding boost 'tremendous news'

12:30 pm on 20 May 2011

A doctor in the Far North says the $12 million targeted in the Budget at reducing rheumatic fever in vulnerable communities is tremendous news for Maori families.

A Ngapuhu GP, Lance O'Sullivan, says Associate Health Minister Tariana Turia should take a bow for championing the cause for more resources.

Dr O'Sullivan says that since the disease starts with a sore throat, some of the Budget money should go to making throat checks free. If a child wakes up with a sore throat, he says, at the moment "it's a matter of whether you've got $10 in your pocket or not to get them to see a doctor".

He says the echo-screening programme that checked 800 Far North children for rheumatic fever will be repeated this year. Screening in Kaitaia last year found eight Maori children with undiagnosed heart damage caused by rheumatic fever.

Poverty 'needs to be addressed too'

A Northland medical officer of health, Clair Mills, says the money is welcome but is no magic bullet, because it won't address the poverty and cramped housing conditions that foster the disease.

"It would be very good to see at the same time," Dr Mills says, "if we can work on some of those broader social issues which are very important in preventing diseases like this."

Ms Turia says the rate of rheumatic fever is now 14 times higher in New Zealand than in any other OECD country, and the large disparity between ethnic groups appears to have worsened, with mean incidence rates for Maori and Pacific children 20 to 40 times higher than those for other New Zealand children.