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Research shows link between poverty and respiratory disease

30 March 2012

Latest research highlights the link between poverty and respiratory disease

The connection between poverty and respiratory disease is well established. Poverty affects respiratory health in many ways with overcrowding and cold, damp houses known to cause respiratory illnesses and admissions to hospital. Poor access to health care can often prevent these illnesses from being treated adequately.

The latest research by Dr Michael Baker and his colleagues from University of Otago, Wellington demonstrates the impact that increasing social inequalities are having on respiratory disease.* The research shows that New Zealand hospital admissions for serious infectious disease have increased since the late 1980s and respiratory infections are the single biggest cause.

These nasty infections don’t affect all of us equally – they show strong links with poverty and huge inequalities between ethnic groups with Maori and Pacific being particularly badly affected, and the gaps are widening. Once again, these gaps reflect the increasing income inequalities in our country. There is little doubt that a large part of this problem is caused by social and economic disadvantage. In recent years, income inequalities have risen faster in New Zealand than in most OECD countries.

“Serious infections cause great personal, social and financial costs for patients and families. They are also expensive for the health service to treat,” says Bob Hancox, Medical Director of the Foundation. “We can, and should, do so much more to stem this rise in infectious diseases. These diseases are fuelled by the inequalities in our society and we urgently need to tackle these. Reducing poverty, better housing, and improving access to primary health care would be good places to start.”

Asthma Foundation Chief Executive, Angela Francis believes that the time is now to take action. “Some people may ask whether we can afford to do these things in tough economic times; the real question is, how can we not?”

*Baker MG, Barnard LT, Kvalsvig A, Verrall A, Zhang J, Keall M, Wilson N, Wall T, Howden-­Chapman P. Increasing incidence of serious infectious diseases and inequalities in New Zealand: a national epidemiological study. 2012 Lancet; 379:1112-­9.

1. About 1 in 4 New Zealand children has asthma and 1 in 6 adults.
2. New Zealand has the second highest rate of asthma in the world, following the UK.
3. About 800 000 New Zealanders are affected by asthma and other respiratory conditions.

About the Asthma Foundation

The Asthma Foundation is New Zealand’s not-for-profit sector authority on asthma and other respiratory illnesses.

We advocate to government and raise awareness of respiratory illnesses, fund research for better treatments and educate on best practice. We provide resources on our website and support our 17 affiliated Asthma Societies in providing education, support and advice.


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