8 May 2018

Rheumatic fever sufferers allegedly called 'coconuts' in hospital

From Checkpoint, 5:24 pm on 8 May 2018

A study into the increase in rheumatic fever in Māori and Pacific people has uncovered claims of racism and 'rough handling' of patients suffering from the disease.

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Photo: 123rf

The Auckland University research explored Māori and Pacific whānau experiences and understandings of rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease.

Of the 113 people who took part in the study, some said they had experienced racism and rough physical handling from some health professionals.

The study's lead author Anneka Anderson said one of the largest complaints involved claims of racism and a lack of cultural safety and understanding.

"We are also seeing interpersonal levels of racism, Pacific patients were actually being called coconuts in hospitals within hearing range of each other where they were visibly seeing healthcare professionals treating them differently from non-Māori and non-Pacific patients," Ms Anderson said.

Some whānau also said they often received 'rough treatment' during check-ups in hospital, when being washed or showered, and when being given quick, painful antibiotic - or as one person described them 'jab and go' - injections.

Read the full study here(3.3 MB, PDF)

One caregiver was particularly concerned the bicillin antibiotic was being delivered into the patient's buttock while he was asleep.

Ms Anderson said the increases in rheumatic fever among the Māori and Pacific people was concerning given the disease had largely disappeared from developed countries.
"There is no evidence to support Māori and Pacific people having an increased genetic susceptibility to RF. So the figures reflect social, political and economic influences that result in socioeconomic deprivation, overcrowded conditions, an increased incidence of streptococcal infections and differing opportunities for appropriate and effective health care."

Financial pressures associated with the complex living contexts of many whānau created barriers to accessing primary and secondary health care services for their RRF and RHD. Common barriers were securing transport and meeting the costs of health care and medical prescription fees.

Many parents and caregivers also described experiencing anxiety and guilt as they felt they were at fault for their child's illnesses. Whānau blamed themselves for not realising how sick their children were, for not seeking medical attention soon enough, and for not pushing health care providers and services 'hard enough' for the medical treatment of their children.
The report listed 11 recommendations to improve the situation including addressing racism, cultural safety and housing issues.

The report also recommended improvements to health literacy of patients to reduce reoccurring cases of rheumatic fever and improved health promotion messages.