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Pacific Health A Top Priority

Health Minister Annette King says improving the health of Pacific people in New Zealand is being given top priority.

Mrs King, who today announced the Government has reinstated the Pacific Island Provider Development fund with an injection of $1.5 million, said the New Zealand Health Strategy, launched last week, formalised the Government's commitment to reducing the health disparities between Maori, Pacific peoples and other New Zealanders.

"This isn't just lip service to an ideal. It is one of 12 objectives for immediate action for both District Health Boards and the Ministry of Health.

"The Ministry of Health has already taken steps to set up a Pacific unit. There will be several people in this unit focused on Pacific health, although the exact number is yet to be determined.

"Ministry staff are also working on initiatives which will enhance primary care, screening programmes and mental health services for Pacific people, improve Pacific children's health and increase the number of Pacific people in the health workforce."

Other action included public health programmes focussed on, for example, infectious diseases in children, and it was a priority to develop a Pacific health strategy this year, she said.

Mrs King said it was already clear that having a strong Pacific health workforce would be one effective strategy.

"We know that one of our Pacific providers has immunised 90 per cent of the children in their practice, well above the national average. We also know that 40 per cent of the Pacific people in Waitakere City choose to go to a Pacific health provider. The one Tongan clinic in the Auckland area sees 21 per cent of that city's Tongan population. These statistics raise some questions about how much better the health status of Pacific people could be if more of them had access to Pacific providers.

"Consequently officials are now identifying where we could usefully consolidate and enhance existing services and/or encourage new ones. But training health workers takes time, so we will also look at ways of ensuring mainstream providers are aware of the particular difficulties and needs of Pacific people."

Mrs King said she was heartened at the level of commitment to reducing health disparities being shown throughout the health sector. "I have every confidence that before long Pacific health will be among our success stories."

ends

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