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Pneumonia research highlights disparities

Friday, 19 May 2006

Pneumonia research highlights disparities

Research published in today's issue of the New Zealand Medical Journal shows there are major ethnic disparities in the incidence of pneumonia.

Community-acquired pneumonia is the most common cause of admission to hospital for adults in New Zealand, and it has a reported mortality of between 6.5% and 8%. The study, conducted at Christchurch and Waikato hospitals, showed that Maori were not only three times as likely as non-Maori to be admitted to hospital with pneumonia, but that of those admitted Maori were younger (mean age 50 vs 66 years), more severely ill, and more likely to be smokers (35% vs 19%).

In commenting on the study, Dr Ross Boswell, Chairman of the NZMA, said: "This research highlights an area of major concern. We know that Maori have more illness and shorter life expectancy than non-Maori, and this study highlights some issues that may help to explain this. For example, pneumonia is exacerbated by smoking, and Maori have higher rates of smoking than the general population. The study identified smoking as a more important cause of pneumonia in Maori than in non-Maori."

Improving the efficacy of anti-smoking campaigns, to lower the smoking rate, would be a step in the right direction, he said. The study authors suggest other possible associations, such as crowded living conditions, economic status, access to medical care, and genetic factors, but analysis of these would need further research.

"If these causes can be dissected out, then a plan of action can be formulated," said Dr Boswell. "We would then know whether to target effort on social factors such as housing and family funding, or on genetic factors by specific immunisation against pneumococcal disease."

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