Tongan Health Society rewarded for growing service to the community

Tongan youth at Onehunga High School, Kelston Boys High School and Toko Collaboration with pharyngeal Group A Streptococcus will benefit from a smartphone application (app) called a Memory Angel. It will remind them to take their penicillin medication on time over the 10-day course. The initiative, between the Tongan Health Society and Healthstat NZ, which developed the app, will remind patients through their smartphones as part of the Ministry of Health National Rheumatic Fever Campaign funded by the PES Innovations Project which the Tongan Health Society will run.

As CEO and Medical Director of the Tongan Health Society Inc (THS), Dr Glenn Doherty knows the consequences of patients who don’t take their medication as prescribed, if at all. It’s particularly damaging to those with chronic conditions who are on multiple medications and with acute  pharyngitis - caused by the bug that causes Rheumatic fever.

“We have looked at all of our respiratory patients with COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease – a disease which makes it hard to breathe and gets progressively worse over time) and did a study with 

Healthstat NZ and Boehringer Ingelheim (an American pharmaceutical company that produces Spiriva, a common inhaler),” says Glenn.

“It showed COPDs account for a huge number of acute hospital admissions which costs a lot of money to the country. Yet it’sso easily prevented if patients take theirmedication when they’re supposed to.”

A trial was conducted where clients were provided cell phones, which were topped up with data, including an app produced and provided by Healthstat NZ CEO and Medical Director Dr Barry Gribben.

The app will notify the patient when medication is due, who then touches the screen in acknowledgement  that it has been received. If it is acknowledged, the app will continue to remind the patient at regular intervals. If not, an email or text will be sent to a caregiver or family member to make contact to ensure the patient knows to take their medication.

Using the base product, Glenn will apply and customise the technology for the Ministry of Health Innovations contract which the Tongan Health Society secured. It’s supported by a Pacific Engagement
Strategy (PES) Innovation Project Funding initiative in the Auckland region.

Another initiative is the Toko Collaboration, where Tongan students, teachers and mentors across the city work towards the wellbeing of Tongan youth. More than 300 are involved and the schools include
Sutton Park Primary School (in Mangere), Onehunga High School and Kelston Boys High School.

Image: Staff and students involved with the Sutton Park Primary School GATE programme

Image: Staff and students involved with the Sutton Park Primary School GATE programme

“The Sutton Park Primary School GATE programme gifted kids (who are mostly Tongan) will develop a website and provide the content around the key messages of the Rheumatic fever campaign. They’re very smart and are confident working in that space,” says Glenn.

“We’ve asked both Kelston Boys and Onehunga High Schools to produce an app for their respective communities. There will be a bit of friendly competition with prizes on offer for the both of them to decide which one will be used.”

Glenn is encouraged by the community support, which includes the Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga in Mt Roskill, the Tongan Community Christian Church and the United Church of Tonga in Kelston.

They’re also working with a number of ECEs (Early Childhood Centres) to create a project using drama, skits, songs, short film with posters and digital media to deliver key messages in relation to Rheumatic fever,with prizes also on offer.

“Youth have a chance to be involved with developing their own solutions to key health promotion issues, then communicate them using technology to their communities,” he says.

“Take your medicine for the full time you’re supposed to, see your doctor if you’ve got a sore throat and don’t sleep in a crowded room.”

Jana Puetz