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Is New Zealand prepared for an allergy epidemic?

Is New Zealand prepared for an allergy epidemic?

A severe lack of allergy services in New Zealand means a number of New Zealanders do not have access to the care they need.

Research shows allergies have increased dramatically over the last decade and, currently one in three New Zealanders are affected. Despite this increase, there are only nine allergy specialists in the country, five of whom are based in the public sector, and all are located in the main centres of Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. There are also no paediatric allergists based outside Auckland.

Currently, each District Health Board has to apply for its own funding. Allergy New Zealand strongly backs a nationally funded allergy service and has long had concerns that those living outside the main areas are being put at risk.

"We are concerned at the number of families where children are not being appropriately diagnosed or their allergies managed effectively. This has ongoing debilitating effects on their health, and we are really concerned at the unidentified risks of anaphylaxis," says Penny Jorgenson, CEO Allergy New Zealand.

"On the other side of it, there are the costs many families are bearing to get access to allergy specialists."

Many New Zealanders spend an enormous amount of time trying to find out the appropriate medical treatment they require and are constantly referred out of their region to access a specialist, or are not referred at all.

It is hoped that Allergy Awareness Week (14th-20th May 2006), an annual initiative organised by Allergy New Zealand, will help to alert the government to the problem.

New Zealand is not alone in battling the allergy epidemic. Globally, westernised countries are witnessing a massive surge in allergy sufferers. For example, an ACAAI quantity of life study on allergic rhinitis shows that this ailment is costing the US billions in lost production, and the economic burden of allergic rhinitis is estimated at $18 billion.

Another study (i) conducted in the Isle of Wight revealed that peanut allergy in children has trebled in the last decade. In addition, a British study (ii) has shown that children with peanut allergy have far higher stress levels than children with insulin-dependent diabetes,

An anaphylactic reaction is the most severe form of allergic reaction which can result in death if not treated quickly with an injection of adrenaline. The ASCIA (iii) suggests that this type of reaction is becoming more common, revealing that one in 166 children having had at least one anaphylactic reaction in the past, with one in six of these happening at school or in childcare.

As a result, pressure is being placed on New Zealand schools and pre-schools to develop good allergy management and anaphylaxis protocols. Allergy New Zealand receives many requests for help from both parents and schools wanting to know how to keep children with severe allergies safe, and where to get training in administering the EpiPen®.

One New Zealand example includes three year old Finn O'Malley, who suffers from multiple allergies, and despite being based in Levin, he and his mother Tara have to travel regularly to Auckland to see a paediatric allergy specialist.

In addition, Finn must carry an EpiPen® with him at all times, and Tara has found that the kindergarten he attends was unprepared for coping with allergies prior to his enrolment. Tara has had to personally arrange professional medical development for the staff and gives ongoing training to new staff members.

"Most schools have staff trained in first aid but I believe this also needs to include anaphylaxis and EpiPen® training," says Ms O'Malley.

"An allergy can develop at any time and is not just limited to food, for example bee-stings. We have always purchased an EpiPen® for Finn and carry it at all times but to have one on the premises at his kindergarten would be a huge relief."

As part of this year's Allergy Awareness Week, Allergy New Zealand is conducting a Red Alert Day campaign, which is aimed at raising awareness of allergies throughout schools and kindergartens in New Zealand. In addition, Allergy New Zealand is providing educational materials and advice on how to support allergic children and, if necessary, how to respond to an allergic reaction.


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