4 Oct 2020

Labour targets rheumatic fever with new Healthy Homes pledge

3:22 pm on 4 October 2020

The Labour Party is promising to kit out more homes with insulation, heaters and bedding if re-elected, saying the prevalence of rheumatic fever in New Zealand is a "national shame".

No caption

Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

The party has pledged to pump an extra $39 million over four years into the Healthy Homes initiative, which has been running since late 2013.

The scheme assesses homes in at-risk areas and co-ordinates support to make them warmer and drier.

The funding would expand the initiative from 11 DHBs to all 20. Labour would also roll out 40 more rental inspectors to ensure landlords are meeting required standards - at a cost of $16 million.

Announcing the policy at the Habitat for Humanity curtain bank this morning, Labour leader Jacinda Ardern said rheumatic fever was a disease that should not exist in New Zealand.

"While good progress has been made to tackle the conditions that lead to 'strep throat' and consequential rheumatic fever, we need to keep up the momentum. We will drive greater resources into efforts to eliminate this illness and protect our most vulnerable communities.

"It is unacceptable that poor quality housing is causing lifelong heart damage, as well as swelling and pain in joints and skin, and increased risk of asthma and other respiratory illness. The problem is much worse for Māori and Pasifika children."

She said Healthy Homes to date had prevented up to 1500 hospitalisations, reduced GP visits for families and kept famillies healthy and well during winter.

She said Labour wanted the disease to "vanish", and it was a national shame it still existed in New Zealand.

"We are not a developing country, we should not have a disease like this that causes damage to a child's heart that affects them for the rest of their life. This is an example of a preventable illness that if we do enough to invest early we can not only prevent but also stop the cost to the health system that comes from having rheumatic fever."

She says Labour has also already committed to testing for rheumatic fever susceptibility when people take a Covid test at a GP, as well as establishing a rheumatic fever register.

She said the winter energy payment, healthy homes standards for private tenancy and improvements to state homes were also helping.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs