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Action Plan For Tackling Infectious Disease

5 November 2001

Health Minister Launches New Action Plan For Tackling Infectious Disease

Health Minister Annette King says New Zealand aims to have 95 percent of all children fully vaccinated at age 2 by 2005, and 75 percent or more of the high-risk adult population vaccinated annually against influenza.

Speaking at the launch today of the Ministry of Health's new action plan for tackling infectious disease, Mrs King said "vaccination is a safe and highly effective means of controlling infectious disease. Improving the vaccination rates of children is our top priority."

The new action plan - "Integrated Approach to Infectious Disease: Priorities for Action 2002-2006" - is supported by the infectious disease sector and endorsed by the New Zealand Health Strategy.

"Our prime objective is to eliminate vaccine-preventable disease by delivering effective vaccination programmes across all communities," Mrs King said.

Mrs King said the action plan also addressed other high priority areas for future work, calling for improved surveillance of antibiotic resistant organisms in hospitals, and looking at ways to improve information collected on sexually transmissible infections.

Mrs King said it was important to recognise that actions by sectors other than health, such as housing, agriculture and local government, also influenced the incidence and impact of infectious disease.

"This action plan outlines how all sectors of Government will work together over the next five years to bring about the New Zealand Health Strategy objective of reducing the incidence and impact of infectious diseases in our country.

"Infectious disease disproportionately affects those in society who are already disadvantaged. By controlling infectious disease we lessen inequalities and reduce disability."

QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

What is the document "An Integrated Approach to Infectious Disease, Priorities for Action 2002-2006" (IAID)? This document has been coordinated by the Ministry of Health with input from a wide range of people working throughout New Zealand on infection control. The document identifies key policy priorities for the Ministry of Health, and offers guidance for the funding of infectious disease programmes by the Ministry of Health, District Health Boards and Public Health Services.

What is the aim of this approach? The aim is to reduce the incidence and impact of infectious diseases over the next five years.

Why do we need an Integrated Approach to Infectious Diseases? Infectious diseases are a significant cause of unnecessary death and illness. Control of infectious disease requires a coordinated effort from a diverse range of people and skills. Infectious diseases disproportionately affect the poorest, most marginalised and vulnerable groups in our society. Addressing infectious disease problems requires action from many sectors, including housing, education, agriculture and immigration. Infectious diseases account for six percent of deaths in New Zealand, making them the fourth major category of cause of death after cardiovascular disease, cancer and death from injury. Infectious diseases also constitute 12 percent of admissions to New Zealand hospitals. Many of these are avoidable through effective control or prevention measures.

Determinants of health often lie outside the direct control of the heath sector, with the social and economic environment having a crucial role in distributing infectious diseases within communities. The action plan seeks to make the best use of resources and to target the highest priority areas of concern.

Are any particular groups at greater risk from infectious diseases? Nearly a third of the total number of hospital admissions for infectious disease occur in children under five years of age. Maori and Pacific people suffer disproportionately high rates of many infectious diseases. Rates of rheumatic fever, for example, are 15 times higher in Maori than non-Maori. Meningococcal disease rates are three times as high in Maori and six times higher in Pacific people as in other New Zealanders. Improving infectious disease control amongst Maori and Pacific people will help reduce health inequalities.

How does this tie in with the Sexual and Reproductive Health Strategy? New Zealand's first comprehensive Sexual and Reproductive Health Strategy was launched on October 18. The document provides the strategic direction for sexual and reproductive health and outlines the process for developing detailed action plans. These cover the main areas of concern such as increasing rates of teenage and unwanted pregnancy, abortions and sexually transmissible infections (STIs). The Strategy also focuses on key population groups such as Maori, Pacific and young people.

How does the action plan link with the objectives of the New Zealand Health Strategy? The disease-based approach of the IAID complements and reinforces a number of key goals and objectives in the New Zealand Health Strategy, including better physical health, providing accessible and appropriate health care services, creating a healthy physical environment and reducing inequalities in health status. This approach also links to other action-based strategic documents that have been produced under the umbrella of the NZHS.

How have infectious diseases been prioritised? Priorities for discussion have been determined by a number of factors, including the existing burden of disease, the ability to do something about it, the potential for outbreaks, and health inequalities.

Why is improving immunisation rates the top priority area in infectious disease? New Zealand currently has relatively low levels of immunisation coverage, particularly amongst Maori and Pacific children. By achieving very high rates of immunisation outbreaks of disease such as pertussis (whooping cough) and measles can be avoided. Outbreaks of measles, rubella and pertussis will continue to occur unless immunisation coverage is improved. Meningococcal B is another potentially vaccine-preventable disease that is currently occurring at much higher rates than in other developed countries. Development of a vaccine is currently underway involving biotechnology company Chiron Corporation and the Norwegian Institute of Public Health.

Ends


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