2015 Rheumatic Fever Awareness Campaign


There has been a 14 percent decrease in first episode rheumatic fever hospitalisations since the Better Public Service rheumatic fever target was introduced in 2012. Between 2013 and 2014, which is where the latest drop has been recorded, first episode rheumatic fever hospitalisation numbers declined from 194 cases to 153. The 2014 and 2015 Winter Rheumatic Fever Awareness Campaigns are aimed at reducing the rate of rheumatic fever in New Zealand. 

In order to contribute to a further reduction in rates this awareness campaign is focussed on helping to increase knowledge of the link between sore throats and rheumatic fever and the serious heart damage that it can cause in at-risk families and communities, providing information on how they can protect their children from it and how and where to seek help as soon as possible for a sore throat.

Rheumatic fever has a huge impact on the lives of Māori and Pacific children and young people, and it starts with a sore throat.  This campaign aims to increase the awareness of rheumatic fever in the community and encourage parents and caregivers to respond to their child’s sore throat by getting every sore throat checked by a doctor or nurse at free, community based Sore Throat Clinics.

The national campaign started on 28 April with national television and online advertising, followed by regional radio advertising one week later.

The Government has identified a reduction in the incidence of rheumatic fever (RF) by two thirds, to 1.4 cases per 100,000 by 2017, as one of 10 cross-government Better Public Services targets. 

The Ministry of Health is the lead government agency responsible for the reduction of the incidence of RF in New Zealand. The focus on raising awareness of RF and working with community and sector groups and capabilities to support prevention activities has two key goals:

  • Higher percentage of Pacific and Māori parents and caregivers seek immediate attention for their child’s sore throat.
  • Higher percentage of children and young people know how to protect themselves and their whānau from rheumatic fever.

The Ministry of Health and the Health Promotion Agency (HPA) are working together to ensure that the awareness campaign predominantly targets Pacific and Māori parents and caregivers of at-risk children and young people aged 4 to 19 years around initiatives to prevent rheumatic fever. The HPA is delivering the campaign.

About the campaign

The national campaign started on 28 April and runs through until the end of August 2015, and is timed for winter when rates of strep throat infections and rheumatic fever increase.

The campaign consists of sequenced mass media, including national TV and targeted regional media promotions in areas where rheumatic fever incidence is highest, with a heavy weighted radio component, online activity (including social media), digital monitors in community environments, direct mail and a high level public relations component. National and regional communications channels targeting Pacific and Māori parents and caregivers of children and young people will be used.

The areas of focus are:

  • Wider Auckland (Waitemata, Auckland, Counties – Manukau)
  • Northland
  • Waikato
  • Bay of Plenty
  • Tairawhiti 
  • Hawke’s Bay
  • Lakes(Rotorua, Taupo, Turangi)
  • Wider Wellington (Capital and Coast and Hutt)

Who is the campaign talking to and why?

The campaign aims to create national awareness of rheumatic fever, the heart damage it can cause and the importance of having children’s sore throats checked at an early stage to prevent strep throat from leading to rheumatic fever. National incidence of rheumatic fever shows that Pacific and Māori children are most at risk. 

Pacific children are approximately 40 times more likely to contract rheumatic fever than other children in New Zealand and Māori children are approximately 20 times more at risk. The campaign is targeted at parents and caregivers of at-risk children and young people with a focus on regions where rheumatic fever incidence is highest (see above).

Key messages have been prioritised and turned into ‘calls-to-action’ for a range of communication channels designed to engage these audiences. These calls to action have been tested in focus groups with priority audiences. Among the key messages are:

Key Messages and calls-to-action

  • A sore throat can lead to rheumatic fever if it’s left untreated. Rheumatic fever is very serious and can cause heart damage.
  • Every time your child has a sore throat it could be serious.  Don’t ignore, take them to a doctor or nurse straight away to get it checked. Call Healthline on 0800 611 116 to find out more.
  • If your child is given antibiotics, it’s important they take them for the whole 10 days, even if they feel better, to stop the sore throat turning into rheumatic fever .
  • Rheumatic fever could turn into rheumatic heart disease, which could affect your child for life. It may even require major heart surgery.
  • Children with rheumatic fever may:
  • need months off school and sports
  • need monthly injections for at least 10 years.
  • Pacific children and young people are about 40 times and Māori children and young people about 20 times more likely to get rheumatic fever than non-Māori and non-Pacific children and young people.
  • If your child has a sore throat, you can take them to one of the local sore throat clinics for a free check.  It’s quick and easy.  

For further information

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