Fighting Rheumatic Fever in our communities

“I wouldn’t take my child to the doctor just for a sore throat…”

Natasha Williams, Rheumatic Fever Community and Sector Engagement Facilitator for Auckland DHB, hears those words quite often. But what can seem like “just a sore throat” or a simple irritation, can actually develop into a serious health issue. Part of Natasha’s role in the community is to educate people and change the way we think about sore throats to combat the prevalence of rheumatic fever (RF), particularly in our Māori and Pacific communities.

Nationally, rheumatic fever rates have dropped 45 per cent. More than half the national reduction has been in Counties Manukau DHBs and Northland. In the Auckland and Waitemata regions, we still need to do more to raise RF awareness with our most at-risk Māori and Pacific whānau. That is where Natasha comes in. She works in the Auckland and Waitemata regions, providing RF workshops, education sessions and awareness events to Māori and Pacific whānau. She also gives RF presentations and support to staff who work directly with Māori and Pacific whānau in the community.

Earlier this year, Natasha organised an RF awareness event at Ruapotaka Marae for Māori and Pacific whānau. The goal was to help families better understand what RF is and how to prevent it. Natasha also spoke to whānau about the AWHI (Auckland-wide Healthy Housing Initiative) Programme and the free sore throat clinics available to them in their community.

Fifty Māori and Pacific whānau were invited to the event and 48 attended. They heard the personal account of Akenese Facts Pacific whānau aged 4-19 years are 69 times more likely to get RF than NZ European children. Māori whānau aged 4-19 years are 47 times more likely to get RF than NZ European children. Rheumatic fever is a serious disease that often causes long-term heart damage. RF is preventable. RF results from an untreated strep throat (a sore throat). Every sore throat matters: Get it checked. and her daughter Evanjaline, who was diagnosed with RF four years ago, and the impact it had on her and their whānau. Natasha describes the event as an emotional, powerful story that reinforced the key message ‘every sore throat needs to be checked’.

“At the beginning of this event, I asked the whānau what they would do if their child told them they had a sore throat,” says Natasha. “Half of them said they would give them Pamol, the other half said they wouldn’t do anything; it’s just a sore throat. At the end of the event I asked them the same question, all 48 whānau said they would take their child to have their throat checked. To me, this is success, when you know that the whānau you are talking to really understand that a sore throat can be very serious and that they will act on it.”

- from NOVA magazine

Last modified:

← Back to the news