Action Needed on Rheumatic Fever

Heart Kids, the New Zealand charity representing those children affected by Rheumatic Heart Disease is calling for more action over eradicating the disease.

Chief Executive Rob Lutter says if more than a billion dollars can be budgeted for getting rid of a cattle disease, then surely the government can find a fraction of that to fight the disease that kills around 159 people a year in New Zealand. *figures from ESR report published 2017

“We are sick of being the ambulance at the bottom of the rheumatic cliff.  There needs to be a concerted, cross-service approach to dealing with this third world disease, which we simply should not be seeing in New Zealand,” said Mr Lutter.

“Two weeks ago, Health Minister David Clark announced he was off to Geneva to put the issue of Rheumatic Heart Disease in front of the World Health Assembly.  The Minister has been back for over a week and we would like to know what the outcome of the trip was and what it means for New Zealand?”

New Zealand’s rate of RHD is amongst the highest in industrialised countries.  It is associated with poverty and overcrowded housing and is far higher among Maori and Pacific populations.

Heart Kids CEO Rob Lutter says it devastates families.  “It’s not just about treating sick children, it goes far wider than that.  It’s a housing issue, an education issue, it’s a social issue and it’s a health issue.  There is no point treating Rheumatic Fever in some of these children, when they only go home to the same, cold, damp and overcrowded homes that have caused the sickness in the first place.”

A third of Heart Kids families dealing with the disease are from South Auckland alone.    

Heart Kids Family Support worker Montee Stehlin is at the coal face.

“It derails entire families. They’re affected not just physically, but emotionally and financially as well. A child goes from being fit and healthy one day, to being a permanent spectator the next, with constant trips to the hospital and possibly facing a shortened life.  Then there is the emotional affect. The guilt many parents feel is huge. With RHD there are often no symptoms presenting prior to the diagnosis. The parent feels they’ve neglected their child, and as a result that child’s life will be scarred forever. And finally, there’s the financial stress. The loss of income for parents who have to reduce hours to care for their sick child.  In some cases, parents have lost their jobs because of the level of care needed.”

Rheumatic Fever causes the joints, brain skin and heart to become inflamed and swollen, which can cause rheumatic heart disease, a scarring of the heart valves which can cause premature death.

Maori and Pacific island children and young adults aged 4-19 have the highest rates of Rheumatic Fever. 

“We see the affects first hand.  We’re left to pick up the pieces and it is heart breaking, especially when you know it didn’t have to happen, it could’ve been prevented,” said Mr Lutter.

While we acknowledge various programmes have been put in place in the past, this disease is not going away, especially in areas like South Auckland.  More action is needed, and we want to talk with Health Minister on how the Government can plan to eradicate it once and for all.  We want to see the same level of commitment the Government has given to eradicating mycoplasma-bovis, given to tackling a totally preventable disease which is killing our people. Surely they are worth more than cattle.”

Created on: 11 June 2018