Government announces $12m funding boost for rheumatic fever

The Government is vowing to put power back in the hands of the communities hardest hit by rheumatic fever.

It's spending $12 million to tackle high rates of preventable disease among Māori and Pacific people.

It starts with a sore throat but it can become so much worse. If untreated, rheumatic fever can progress to a stage where the heart is damaged and surgery is the only option.

Pacific people make up 57 percent of all rheumatic fever cases in New Zealand while Māori account for 37 percent. The rest of the population represents just six percent of cases.

And it's those statistics the Government is keen to address.

"Whatever we actually initiate and implement in the future to address rheumatic fever it has to be community led, it has to be whanau owned and it has to be co-designed with the community," says Associate Minister of Health Jenny Salesa.

The $12m announced on Saturday will go towards things like free school-based health clinics in disadvantaged communities in Auckland.

Two-thirds of rheumatic fever cases occur in Auckland. The region has seen 77 people hospitalised for the illness so far this year - and 52 of those were in south Auckland.

But paediatrician Teulia Percival says health initiatives have just a small part to play.

"One of the really important things is housing quality so that's not overcrowding and not damp and cold houses," she says.

The Associate Health Minister agrees housing needs needs to be a key focus and is promising wider reform in the Budget.