Fears Government has dropped the ball on rheumatic fever as cases rise

There are fears the Government has dropped the ball on rheumatic fever, with the number of cases rising in the last couple of years.

It coincides with the Government spending less on preventing the illness which is considered a third wold disease.

Otago University public health professor Michael Baker says it’s a disgrace rheumatic fever is still in New Zealand.

In 2011, rheumatic fever cases dropped off as a multi-million dollar prevention programme began. But from 2016, that number began rising again.

The Ministry of Health acknowledges the programme looked like it was making good headway for the first few years.

Roughly $13 million was spent during the Rheumatic Fever Prevention Programme but since it was stopped in 2017, the budget has halved. Now only $5 million is allocated per year to district health boards.

Michael Baker argues it’s not good enough to leave it to individual DHBs and a national action plan is needed.

"The real problem is New Zealand started a world leading prevention programme which we ran for 5 years, with a big focus on primary care, attracted a huge amount of national interest and we've just stopped that programme two years ago," says Mr Baker.

"I think we really dropped the ball with this disease," he says.

However, the Government disagrees. Health Minister David Clark says tackling rheumatic fever is a priority.

"I'm not going to make any budget announcements today, but what I can say is that we want to fund DHB’s better to tackle the issues coming up in their regions," he says.

The Ministry of Health says the rise in cases is down to multiple reasons.

It says rheumatic fever is a complex conditions and the housing situation in Auckland is possibly one factor contributing to it.

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The Government is now spending less on preventing the illness. Source: 1 NEWS