GSL Promotus fights rheumatic fever for HPA campaign

It’s winter and for some people in New Zealand that means a trip to the hospital for injections or even open heart surgery – because of rheumatic fever.

GSL Promotus is behind a national Health Promotion Agency campaign to let more people know that strep throats, if left untreated, can develop into rheumatic fever in at-risk populations. The campaign involves six different TVCs, a multitude of radio ads (in English, re reo Maori, Samoan and Tongan), print, social media, online videos and banners, as well as Adshel posters directing people to free sore throat clinics in certain areas.

The TV ads, filmed by Craig Henderson and Tim Parsons at production company Exposure, heavily feature twins Justin and Tristan Katoa, one of whom bears a scar from open heart surgery after a sore throat morphed into full-blown rheumatic fever that inflamed his heart valves. The ads touch the right audience – with the banter of two tough wee Pasifika kids: “I thought you were just being soft, because of rugby that morning,” “I thought I played really good, even though I had rheumatic fever!”. Ninety-two percent of the rheumatic fever cases in New Zealand are in Maori and Pacific Island children.

“Everyone was so keen to help us out due to the importance of this campaign and the impact on so many people,” says GSL managing director Leigh Graham. “Special care was taken to be very sensitive and respectful to the needs of the family – they are living with this awful illness and the memories were very fresh. Days after filming Tristan needed to go back into hospital for yet another heart operation.”

The campaign has been running since 1 May and is one bite of the $4.72 million cherry allocated by the Government last year for awareness campaigns around rheumatic fever, as part of the Ministry of Health’s Better Public Services target (the fight against rheumatic fever has been allocated $44 million in total, including drop-in clinics, vaccine research and healthy home advice). The Government has a target to reduce the incidence of rheumatic fever by two thirds to 1.4 cases per 100,000 people by June 2017. In 2010/11, the annual rate of rheumatic fever was 4.2 cases per 100,000 people.

With rheumatic fever, the heart, joints, skin or central nervous system become inflamed, as a result of the body attacking its own proteins.The disease is now rare in most wealthy countries, but still afflicts New Zealand and Australia, with Māori, Pasifika and Aboriginal communities suffering some of the highest rates of rheumatic heart disease in the world (it’s also common in sub-Saharan Africa and south central Asia). The fever is linked to poor housing conditions, overcrowding and not treating strep throat – a bacterial infection.

The highest rates are found in Northland, Auckland, Waikato, Bay of Plenty, Tairawhiti, Lakes, Hawkes Bay and Wellington – there are not many cases in the South Island at all.

GSL Promotus has been strongly involved in the health sector for many years  – campaigns include cervical screening and breast screening advertising, and the hugely successful breastfeeding campaign (after the campaign, 100 percent more Maori were breastfeeding at sx months). “We have recently launched a very different approach for Choice not Chance (problem gambling) with a game show theme – already very successful,” says Graham. “And most recently we developed a really strong new campaign called Stop Before You Start campaign for HPA Tobacco Control, filmed by Taika Waititi. Our strong knowledge of working with Maori and Pacific people is invaluable in developing campaigns that connect well.” 

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