Rheumatic fever is a serious but preventable illness, and New Zealand is one of the few developed countries in the world still affected by it.
The illness is so serious it can lead to permanent heart damage and even death.
Children with rheumatic fever often need serious heart operations, and as part of their treatment requir, monthly penicillin injections for at least ten years.
The thing about rheumatic fever is it is entirely preventable. The illness starts with a sore throat, and if Strep A throat infections are left untreated, they can develop into rheumatic fever.
Those affected are more likely to live in over-crowded conditions, often cold and damp, where strep throat germs can more easily spread.
The populations most affected are Maori and Pacific children and young people aged four to 19 years. Many have English as a second language.
These at-risk audiences are aware of rheumatic fever, but less aware of how it occurs or the actions they should take to prevent it from occurring.
The HPA had run a successful campaign around acting on sore throats, but children were still getting sick. Plus it had great success with Pacific families, but slower uptake with Maori. It needed to go further this time.
The HPA knew that if it could educate people about having drier homes and safer sleeping arrangements, more rheumatic fever cases could be prevented. But research showed these messages would be hard to deliver – families wouldn’t accept being told how to live their lives and keep their homes healthy.
Previously, the messaging around rheumatic fever had focused on the sore throat aspect of the illness, and the importance of getting these treated.
This campaign took one step back again, to encourage creating warmer and drier homes to prevent the onset of strep throat in the first place.
However, as a sensitive area – telling people how to keep their homes and put their children to sleep – the campaign had to tread carefully.
It developed flash-cards health providers could use in face-to-face conversations with at-risk families, and made them adaptable for the situation.