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Vodafone Warriors Steve Rapira, Ben Henry and Sione Lousi made a surprise appearance at Glen Innes Primary School to help launch a new Rheumatic fever prevention programme aiming to reduce the incidence of the disease in some of central Aucklands most vulnerable communities.

Auckland DHBs Say Aah! programme will see nurses carry out regular throat swabs on thousands of primary and intermediate students across 16 central Auckland schools in order to check for Group A streptococcus (strep throat), the bacteria that can lead to rheumatic fever.

The initiative will initially run for three years and will also involve follow up visits by nurses and child health workers to the homes of children who require antibiotic treatment.

Alison Leversha, Auckland DHB community paediatrician, said: For us, the new programme will enable the proactive detection of strep throat on a far greater scale than before, allowing us to reduce the incidence of Rheumatic fever in the communities where there is a high prevalence of the disease.

Auckland DHB will be rolling the programme out in stages, beginning with eight schools in Glen Innes, Tamaki, Panmure and Point England over the next few months, followed by schools in Otahuhu, Mt Roskill and Three Kings in the first half of 2014.

Dr Richard Aickin, director of Child Health, said: We have a target of reducing the incidence within our catchment area by two thirds over the next three years and this programme is a vital component in achieving this goal.

The programme will also incorporate a health literacy and awareness component to help children, parents and caregivers better understand the risks of rheumatic fever and the importance of getting a sore throat checked by a doctor or nurse. Child health workers will also work with local services to address other common health concerns, such as skin infections and housing issues.

Henry, Rapira and Lousi spent the morning talking to children about the importance of getting sore throats checked and former Kiwi and Vodafone Warrior Awen Guttenbeil gave an account of his own experiences with the disease.

We want to do everything we can to help parents and children understand that Rheumatic fever and permanent heart damage is preventable and can all start from a simple sore throat, said Henry.

"If you have a sore throat, get it checked early by a doctor or nurse.

Auckland DHB will also work closely with primary health care providers, schools, health agencies and other community organisations to ensure a collaborative approach towards delivering this important programme.

There is a big focus on community engagement and providing families with the knowledge they need to help fight strep throat and rheumatic fever, says Alison Leversha.

Approximately 160 people are diagnosed with acute rheumatic fever in New Zealand every year, with school-aged Maori and Pacific children being the most susceptible. Maori and Pacific children are 47 and 60 times more likely to be admitted to hospital with first time acute rheumatic fever than anyone else.

Glen Innes principal Jonathan Hendricks said: We have a large Pacific Island and Maori population in this area and we also have a disproportionally high occurrence of Rheumatic fever.

This initiative will help our community fight this highly preventable disease.

The Government announced $21.3 million in the this years Budget to cut the incidence of Rheumatic fever by two-thirds by 2017.

Notes to the editor:

Reducing the incidence of rheumatic fever (RF) by two-thirds to 1.4 cases per 100,000 nationally by 2017 is one of the Governments Better Public Service targets to support vulnerable children.

Earlier in the month, the Government announced that its fight to reduce New Zealands high rate of rheumatic fever among children will receive an additional $21.3 million over four years in Budget 2013.

Auckland DHB has a target of reducing the incidence within its catchment area from 3.5:100,000 to 1.2:100,000 by 2017.

The incidence in New Zealand is 14 times the OECD average

Rheumatic fever is a serious disease and can cause long-term damage to the heart. It often starts with a sore throat caused by a bug (streptococcal infection) and a few weeks after the strep throat, a child may develop sore or swollen joints, a skin rash, a fever, stomach pain or jerky movements.

If identified, Group A streptococcus can be easily treated by a course of antibiotics.
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