Rheumatic fever rates have halved in the Waikato since the health board launched its community-led prevention programme last April.
New figures show rates have dropped from 16 new cases in 2014 to eight in 2015.
Ministry funded campaigns were launched across New Zealand as part of a national drive to reduce the number of children diagnosed with the debilitating condition.
Of the 300 sore throat swabbing services launched nationwide, Waikato DHB offers 174 through local pharmacies, pathlabs, general practice and some high school clinics as a free service for high-risk populations. Since the swabbing services began last year, almost 6000 children have received free swabbing services and been given important messages that all sore throats need to be checked to help prevent rheumatic fever.
Rheumatic fever is caused by group A streptococcus – a simple throat infection. If not treated approximately 3 per cent of strep patients could develop rheumatic fever which can lead to irreversible heart damage. In the Waikato the disease disproportionately affects Maori and Pacific children.
In NZ, 98 people were hospitalised for the first time with rheumatic fever in 2015, compared with 177 hospitalisations in 2012 – that’s a 45 per cent reduction.
Rates for Māori have more than halved since 2012 – down 54 per cent. There has also been a drop of 27 per cent for Pacific people. More than half the national reduction was in Northland and Counties Manukau DHBs.
“Rheumatic fever is a serious, preventable disease, which usually starts with a sore throat and can lead to lifelong heart problems,” says Dr Coleman.
“It’s encouraging to see this latest significant drop in rheumatic fever rates which continues the downward trend since 2013. This reflects the hard work being carried out by the sector and in communities most at risk.
“It shows the $65 million investment the Government has made to prevent rheumatic fever is making a real difference to the young people, families and communities most at risk.
“It’s great to see progress is being made towards the BPS target of reducing rheumatic fever rates by two-thirds by the end of June 2017.
“We need to keep the momentum going to achieve the target and ensure the gains we make for vulnerable young people are sustainable.”