Turia: Tokoroa Rheumatic Fever Prevention Campaign

Speech – New Zealand Government

Launch of Tokoroa Rheumatic Fever Prevention Campaign South Waikato Pacific Island Community Services Wednesday 19 October 2011, 1.30pm SpeechHon Tariana Turia
Associate Minister of Health

Launch of Tokoroa Rheumatic Fever Prevention Campaign
South Waikato Pacific Island Community Services
Wednesday 19 October 2011, 1.30pm Speech
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Thank you to Mr Murray Kendrik, the Principal, Strathmore School, for your welcome to me this morning.

I acknowledge His Worship the Mayor; Neil Sinclair, and my colleague, Louise Upston, the MP for Taupo. And I am delighted to see such a large crowd here today, whanau, parents, health providers, local organisations – all here for such an important kaupapa.
I was really eager to come here today to the heart of Tokoroa to help you launch the Rheumatic Fever Prevention Campaign.

The reason for my excitement can be traced back to just over a month ago when I was told that Tokoroa came to a standstill.

According to the reports I’ve received over 2000 people streamed through Bridge Street in an incredible street parade beyond all expectations.
Flags flying, faces painted, traditional dress, musical instruments from all over – and the wonderful spectacle of some 500 children were participating – including Te Ara Metua Punanga Reo Kuki Airani.

Just to give some sense of perspective – that’s about one in seven people in Tokoroa were actively involved in this one parade – let alone those who stood and admired on the side of the road.

Was it just the spirit of the Rugby World Cup that drew everyone together?

Or was it the magic of Involve 11?
Whatever it was – that spirit of community pride and commitment to each other is to be celebrated and it certainly drew me here today.

I want to firstly pay tribute to a remarkable coming together of hearts and minds, the Tokoroa Rheumatic Fever Collective comprised of:

• South Waikato Pacific Island Community Services Ltd
• Raukawa Charitable Trust
• Waikato District Health Board Population Health Service
• Tokoroa Spectrum Pharmacy
• Unichem Pharmacy
• Putaruru Heslops Pharmacy
• Unichem Putaruru Pharmacy
• Midland Health Network.

I used the word ‘remarkable’ to describe this grouping and I want to just talk a bit more about that.

It will be no secret to the health providers here that collaboration and cooperation has become a significant feature of the health sector.

But here in Tokoroa – you have come to that conclusion yourself, without any Ministry or Minister setting the direction for you.

The launch of this campaign in Tokoroa is an excellent example of a local solution – each of you believing that a collaborative approach will ultimately achieve the difference you seek.

I am told that there are two key aims of the campaign being launched in Tokoroa:

1) promote the message that rheumatic fever is a serious and preventable disease; and

2) ensure that local testing and treatment for Group A Streptococcal throat infection is in accordance with best practice.

You are driven by a calling to reduce the high rates of rheumatic fever amongst Maori and Pasifika communities, including in the South Waikato. That calling has led you to look to yourselves- what could you do to make the difference?

You found the answer in the decision to raise awareness amongst your communities, while at the same time strengthening health worker training, surveillance, and research.

And so today I want to place credit where credit is due – to the bold courage of your community in taking action to address rheumatic fever.
This is community strength at its best. I congratulate you on establishing a clear message for the campaign – that sore throats matter.

What all of the evidence tells us is that rheumatic fever is a serious and largely preventable disease that is endemic in some New Zealand communities.

More often than not it affects school-aged children. Indeed, three in four hospital admissions for acute rheumatic fever are children between the ages of 5-14 years.

The other factor which you are responding to with this disease is the fact that it most commonly occurs in people of Māori and Pacific ethnicity. Māori are twenty times more likely and Pacific people 37 times more likely to be hospitalised with acute rheumatic fever, compared to people of other ethnicities.

As a Minister with responsibilities relating to Māori health, I have despaired at such a large disparity between ethnic groups, and to know that this disparity has worsened over the last two decades.

It simply could not go on – and in the Budget this year I was finally able to achieve significant support for a Rheumatic Fever Prevention Programme which includes a throat swabbing service component.

But again I come back to you – and your commitment to support whanau members to seek medical attention when they have a sore throat in order to prevent the risk of rheumatic fever.

It’s such a simple goal but an effective one. Education and health promotion will focus on encouraging whanau and the community to fight against rheumatic fever, hand in hand with health providers.

Information packs will be distributed to all local schools including kohanga reo, early childhood education facilities and Pacific Island child care services.

Of course it doesn’t just stop at reading material- no matter how good. Patients with a recurrence or rheumatic fever are at very high risk of further heart damage.

Once discharged from hospital they will need to receive injections of penicillin for at least ten years to prevent a recurrence of the disease.

And so the message is very definitely that sore throats matter today, tomorrow, next week, next year – it’s about collaboration, consistency and commitment. Attitude is half the battle and when combined with better access, knowledge and treatment for those most in need, success is well within your reach.

I really believe that the dedication of the local people and organisations will make all the difference in improving the health and well-being of all of our tamariki in South Waikato.

I am delighted to be part of this very special day and to officially launch the Rheumatic Fever Prevention Campaign for Tokoroa and beyond.
ENDS

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