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Child health outcomes are poor in New Zealand

Press release

From Hospital Play Specialist Association of New Zealand/Aotearoa

Child health outcomes are poor in New Zealand – address underlying reasons

Child health outcomes in New Zealand are poor in relationship to comparable countries says Professor Innes Asher of the University of Auckand’s Paediatrics Department, and Paediatrician at Starship Childrens’ Health, speaking in a hard hitting key note lecture, at the Hospital Play Specialist Association of New Zealand/Aotearoa’s 3rd Pacific Rim conference at the Crowne Plaza on Friday 24th March 2006.

The strongest determinant of health is socioeconomic circumstance, which declined over the 1990’s for 30% of New Zealand children who, in 2001, lived in relative poverty, mainly as a result of changes in government policy. Only about one third of these children are being lifted out of poverty by the Working For Families package once it is fully implemented, assuming all the families eligible take it up, leaving 20% of children in poverty, says Professor Asher.

Children in New Zealand are caught in a triple jeopardy says Professor Asher. Firstly, they are not as valued in our society as in others; secondly there has been serious policy neglect; thirdly, we deliver poorly – we have poor immunisation delivery, high primary health care costs (after hours and prescriptions), and poor environmental safety. All these areas need addressing in order to improve the potential of our children

Poverty for children in New Zealand context means having insufficient income for nutritious food, adequate housing which is not cold, damp, mouldy or crowded, clothing for all seasons, participation in sports, access to health care and prescriptions, and education costs. These adverse conditions account, at least in part, for the high rates of preventable diseases in children such as serious chest infections including pneumonia and TB, rheumatic fever, and serious skin infections. Many of the children being seen by hospital play specialists would not be in hospital if New Zealand’s policies on family incomes, housing, and the cost of after hours care and prescriptions were more like countries such as the UK and Australia, says Professor Asher.

The immediate effects of poor health in childhood are costly to family, the development of the child, the health sector, and the workplace (parents taking time off work to look after sick children). In the longterm, a significant proportion of children who have chronic ill health are inhibited from realising their potential. This seriously undermines the need for the productive and knowledgeable workforce necessary to sustain and grow the economy.


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