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Approach To Infectious Disease - King Speech

5 November 2001

Speech Notes - Hon Annette King

Launching "Integrated Approach To Infectious Disease: Priorities For Action 2002-2006"

Good afternoon. Thank you for inviting me to speak today, as we launch a new weapon in the fight against infectious diseases.

I had no hesitation in accepting today's invitation, because I have some very strong views about immunisation and vaccination. And now you lucky people are about to hear those views.

Reducing the incidence and impact of infectious diseases is one of the objectives of the New Zealand Health Strategy. To help us in achieving this objective, a new action plan has been prepared -Integrated Approach to Infectious Disease - which sets out priorities for action over the next five years.

Integrated Approach to Infectious Disease also complements and reinforces a number of other key goals and objectives in the New Zealand Health Strategy, including improving physical health, providing accessible and appropriate health care services, creating a healthy physical environment, and reducing inequalities in health status.

It has been developed by people working in the infectious disease sector, in consultation with other governmental and non-governmental agencies, and coordinated by the Ministry of Health. I would like to thank everybody who has had an involvement in the project.

As you will know, many infections leading to illness, disability or death are avoidable through effective control or prevention measures. Despite this, infectious diseases continue to significantly affect the health of New Zealanders. They accounted for 6 percent of the deaths in New Zealand between 1980 and 1998 and 12 percent of admissions made to New Zealand hospitals from 1988 to 2000.

Unacceptable health inequalities remain: Maori and Pacific people, in particular, suffer disproportionately high rates of many infectious diseases.

Rates of rheumatic fever, for example, are 15 times higher in Maori than in non-Maori. Meningococcal B disease rates are three times higher in Maori and six times higher in Pacific people than in other New Zealanders. There is no doubt that improving infectious disease control among Maori and Pacific people will help reduce health inequalities.

Overall, children under five years represent 29 percent of the total number of hospital admissions for infectious diseases. Many, many of these admissions are avoidable.

Integrated Approach to Infectious Disease defines the priorities and strategies for management of infectious diseases, based on a broad, multi-sectoral view of infectious disease transmission and control.

The incidence and impact of infectious disease is influenced by action in areas such as housing, agriculture, immigration and local government, as well as in the health sector. This action plan identifies policy priorities for central and local government agencies and provides the national framework for infectious disease control within which DHBs will be operating.

However, vaccination is just part of an overall strategy, and there must continue to be substantial efforts to improve housing conditions and other socio-economic factors related to inequalities in health.

Given limited resources, the action plan sets out key strategies for action at national and local levels over the next five years. It clearly identifies, for the highest priority disease groupings, those actions that are currently planned and funded, as well as priorities for future work.

Vaccine preventable diseases are given top priority in the document. Vaccine coverage in New Zealand is still low by international standards, and we continue to have epidemics of measles, rubella and whooping cough because of this.

The overall target is to have 95 percent of all two year olds fully vaccinated by 2005. Strategies to ensure this is achieved include development of a national immunisation register, improving outreach services for low-coverage groups, and the promotion of effective communication strategies in the community.

Meningococcal B disease is another potentially vaccine-preventable disease that is causing high rates of illness in New Zealand. Development of a vaccine is currently under negotiation with Chiron Corporation, and safety trials are expected in 2003.

Other high priority areas in the document include infectious respiratory diseases like rheumatic fever and TB, sexually transmitted infections, blood-borne infections such as hepatitis C, antibiotic resistance and hospital-acquired infections.

These priority groupings were decided and agreed on the basis of: v The existing burden of disease v The ability to do something about it, ie vaccination v The potential for outbreaks of disease, and v Health inequalities

The process of development of Integrated Approach to Infectious Disease has already had an impact on planning and purchasing of services, and provides an important framework for the control of infectious disease in New Zealand. It builds on the existing work and strengths of the health sector, and will ensure coordinated action in the future to ensure best use of health resources.

We know that vaccination is a safe and highly effective strategy in reducing infectious diseases. The challenge now is to ensure that the people who need it most are immunised - without exception.

As you will be aware, New Zealand has some vocal anti-immunisation groups and individuals, including some health professionals, who use distorted information and misinterpreted research results to further their cause. This can have disastrous results, and we must maintain our resolve in the face of such views. New Zealanders need to have accurate, reliable information and advice, and should not be lied to by those opposed to immunisation.

I am sure that much of what I have said today will come as no surprise to any of you. But I believe the time has come to address these issues - and the Integrated Approach to Infectious Disease action plan will be an extremely valuable tool in achieving our targets.

Thank you again for inviting me to speak today.

Ends


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