Bay of Plenty health provider calls for more work to prevent rheumatic fever in Māori communities

An eastern Bay of Plenty health provider says there's still a lot of work to do in preventing rheumatic fever in Māori communities.

Tūhoe Hauora based in Tāneatua has long been running a rheumatic fever prevention screening programme. 

The programme is currently led by kaimahi Dolly Thurpp and Aroha Teepa. They test students across the Tūhoe rohe for strep throat, which Teepa said can develop into a rheumatic fever if left untreated.

"That's one of the worst things you would want to hear is that one of your kids in your kura has come back positive for rheumatic fever," Teepa said.

"And you know that you tried everything to prevent it."

Te Kura o Tāneatua principal Marama Stewart said strep throat infections are high at her kura.

This is something she never experienced teaching at higher decile schools.

"Finding you have a rheumatic team that screens - it was a huge learning curve of what the effect rheumatic fever has on many of our whānau." 

That impact is children missing kura, being hospitalised with rheumatic fever, and having to receive painful monthly bicillin injections until they're 21 years old.

"The providers of the screening are what's keeping us above water," Stewart said.

Hopaea Pryor's battle to stay alive planted the seed for the screening program.

As a child, her rheumatic fever symptoms went undiagnosed to the point where her face started to swell and she was rushed to hospital.

"My heart had actually enlarged and it was sitting under my armpit and I had fluid in my liver.

"It took all day and after all of that was done, I was put on a chopper and sent straight to Starship."

But her mum Hana Harawira was glad to finally have answers and quickly got to work, setting up the rheumatic fever screening program in 2012.

Hana passed away in 2015, but Thrupp said the legacy of the rheumatic fever screening team lives on.

"We live and breathe it here you know, in Tūhoe we're community people, it doesn't just stop when we leave the door at five o'clock."

Made with support from Te Māngai Pāho and the Public Interest Journalism Fund.