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Minister misses red flags for meningococcal outbreak

The Health Minister David Clark must come clean on the timeline of events that led to his Governments’ inadequate and extremely delayed response to the fatal meningococcal outbreak, National’s associate Health spokesperson Shane Reti says.

“After the discovery of data that has been publically available for months showing significant increases in life-threatening meningococcal cases it defies belief that the Minister did not take steps to begin a response to this fatal outbreak sooner.

“The Minister claimed in Parliament today that he only knew about the outbreak last week, despite data from his Ministry’s monthly Public Health Surveillance reporting showing meningococcal cases doubling in the first few months of this year.

“Nationwide, cases went from four in January this year to ten in February, then to more than twenty cases in March, with nearly thirty cases in April and almost forty cases in May. By May there was already nearly double the cases than in 2017 for the same time period. Initially there were a range of meningococcal strains, but in April, half of the cases were identified as MenW and in May 100 per cent of the new cases were the MenW strain.

“The evidence that should have caused concern was there in May. We also now know from an internal memo that the Northland DHB has been ‘strongly encouraging the Ministry of Health for some months’ to respond to the increase in cases. This is simply not good enough.

“How can the Minister be so out of touch that he’s unaware of significant occurrences of deadly diseases? The safety of the public is at risk and instead of prioritising an appropriate response the Minister has attempting to justify his inaction based on the definition of an outbreak.

“I am concerned with the effectiveness of the school-based rollout because the majority of the target group are senior students who have already left for the year and primary students are also almost done. I am also concerned for other neighbouring DHBs where we know other cases have occurred. We aren’t aware of any plan for them at this time.

“The management of this serious threat to public health has been abysmal thus far and the public deserve to know what the Minister knew and when and how he is going to manage this to avoid further deaths.”

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