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Government Focus On Achieving Equity In Health

6 July 2001 Media Statement

Prime Minister Helen Clark today addressed the Public Health Association conference on the government's action to achieve equity in health.

Helen Clark told the conference that because health inequities have socio-economic, ethnic, geographic, and gender dimensions, they need to be tackled on a broad front across economic and social policy.

She said that while health policy, interventions, and partnership have an important role to play, on their own, they are unlikely to overcome health inequities.

"The major economic change and dislocation in the 1980s and 1990s, accompanied by major social and labour market policy change in the 1990s, could not fail to have had an adverse impact on health status.

"The 1990s were the years when foodbanks became an essential social service, where teachers doubled their workload as de facto social workers, and when poverty became widespread.

"The effects of these years were particularly noticeable on the health of children, with an increase in their dental disease and the rising incidence of meningococcal meningitis being among the disturbing signs."

Helen Clark said that efforts to raise health status cannot be effective where education and employment levels are poor, and where there is poor housing and poverty.

"The government's aim is to see the economic transformation it seeks accompanied by a social transformation.

"In this context, the steps taken to improve superannuation levels, make public housing affordable, increase resources for education in low decile areas, increase the minimum wage significantly, and provide a more level playing field in industrial relations are all relevant to lifting health status. So is the fact that unemployment at 5.4 per cent is at its lowest level in thirteen years."

Helen Clark outlined the government's vision for health care of enabling all New Zealanders to live the full course of their natural lives as healthy as possible.

"Over the years in opposition we planned the return to a collaborative health system with community involvement in decision-making again. We have set clear health goals and are committed to lifting health status and achieving equity of access to the health system."

Helen Clark said that early initiatives in public health, such as the support to quit smoking through the supply of nicotine replacement therapy, were showing good results.

"In the 2001 Social Report released this week, even on 1999 levels New Zealand men have the second lowest smoking prevalence rate in the OECD, but women have only the thirteenth ranking. Maori smoking rates are particularly high. Through a range of new initiatives, we can get smoking rates down and improve health status and life expectancy further."

Helen Clark said that through the New Zealand Health Strategy and a range of other specific health strategies the government was committed to reducing health inequalities, and that its broader economic and social policies also contributed to that end.


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