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Old and out-of-date public health laws revamp

Old and out-of-date public health laws to be revamped

FUNDAMENTAL changes to "out-of-touch", and nearly 50-year-old Public Health legislation are needed and the Ministry of Health wants New Zealanders to help shape future law.

The Public Health Legislation: Promoting Public Health, Preventing Ill Health, and Managing Communicable Diseases discussion paper, released by the Ministry today, asks the public and health sector to have their say in developing the new Public Health Bill planned for 2003.

"The current Health Act is out-of-date and certainly doesn't reflect public health issues of the 21st Century, or contemporary human rights and values," says Ministry spokesperson Dr Colin Tukuitonga.

The Public Health Bill will replace the Health Act 1956 and associated legislation. Its key focus will be enabling effective management of all significant risks to public health.

Dealing with public health issues is complicated which is why it's vital people have their say on the Bill, says Dr Tukuitonga, Director of Public Health.

"These are issues that affect all New Zealanders' health. We need to ask 'How do we balance keeping our communities healthy while protecting privacy and people's rights?'," he says.

"The current laws were drafted before we had immunisation for many diseases and now need review. The proposals in this discussion document address health issues of major importance today, and include issues relating to non-communicable diseases such as cardiovascular disease and cancer, as well as communicable diseases."

Issues which public views are being sought on, include:

- how we create a healthier society and ensure people have healthy choices, ie, regulation-making powers which could relate to access to products and control of advertising - authorising general provisions for screening, registers and immunisation programmes - maintaining authorities' powers when dealing with people whose conditions pose serious risk to others, while providing greater safeguards to protect rights of people with such conditions - exploring options relating to contact tracing which is important in establishing the cause and prevention of food-borne illness or sexually transmissable infections - exploring the Bill's scope in relation to border health protection (quarantine)

"We also need to future-proof whatever action we choose today for public health, so that it allows for needs and health concerns in years to come," says Dr Tukuitonga.

Any group or individual interested in making submissions on Public Health Legislation: Promoting Public Health, Preventing Ill Health and Managing Communicable Disease, can fill-in submission forms in the discussion document or via the Ministry of Health website www.moh.govt.nz

Submissions will close on 28 March 2003. The new Public Health Bill will be drafted after all submissions are analysed and considered, and it's expected the Bill will be introduced late next year.

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