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Government fails to address high rates of Maori SUDI

3 December 2015

Government fails to address high rates of Maori SUDI (Sudden Unexpected Death in Infancy)

Maori parents receiving timely safe sleep messages is important if we want to ensure recent reductions in SUDI (Sudden Unexpected Death in Infancy) continue, says Maori public health physician Dr David Tipene-Leach. These messages need to occur in the antenatal period.

“The good news is that over the last five years there has been a 30 percent reduction in New Zealand’s SUDI rates, and the reduction has been almost entirely amongst Maori infants,” Dr Tipene-Leach says.

This fall in mortality is despite the recently released Well Child Tamariki Ora (WCTO) Programme Delivery for 2014 report showing that Maori are not receiving safe sleep messages in a timely way.

“This recently released Ministry of Health report shows that a whopping 40 percent of Maori newborns are not seen by health professionals within the first few weeks of birth – and this is something they are entitled to. Whanau Maori are also least likely of any group to be briefed about safe sleep practices.”

In May this year Dr Tipene-Leach and SUDI expert Professor Ed Mitchell commented on how pleased they were with the overall reduction in infant mortality rates. The rates showed a 30 percent drop overall in five years.

Both Dr Tipene-Leach and Professor Mitchell credited the wahakura and pepi-pod programmes provided in community and district health board (DHB) focused safe sleep programmes as the major contributor to the reduction in SUDI rates. Wahakura (a woven flax basket) and pepi-pods (plastic sleeping pods for baby) are devices that allow families to sleep safely with their infants.

“Perversely,” says Dr Tipene-Leach, “the Ministry of Health is also reviewing the provision of SUDI prevention programmes, which has the potential to jeopardise the gains we have made in recent years.”

Local research shows how whanau Maori value the wahakura as a culturally relevant safe sleeping device and evaluation research around DHB programmes shows that safe sleep behaviours are preserved where safe sleep devices are used.

Further research in Hawke’s Bay shows the inherent safety of the wahakura after an exhaustive physiological appraisal of it against the gold standard safety of the bassinet. In Auckland a team is also looking meticulously at the safe sleep device/education programme.

“Maori SUDI rates are still very concerning. Research is showing that the safe sleep devices are in fact safe, that families use them appropriately and there is obvious support from DHBs. With increased national and regional support to implement safe sleep programmes we should see an even greater reduction in Maori SUDI rates.

“I am concerned, however, that there is no guarantee that the provision of safe sleep devices will continue under current funding regimes.”


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