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Child health inequity and high-burden diseases worsening

10 May 2023

Child health inequity and high-burden diseases worsening

10 May 2023

Cure Kids’ third State of Child Health Report spotlights urgent health priorities for our tamariki and rangatahi

Cure Kids’ State of Child Health in Aotearoa New Zealand report released today reveals the inequitable and worsening burden of diseases, including respiratory conditions, and rheumatic fever and heart disease for our tamariki. And, for the first time, the report makes the case for prioritising mental health concerns because of their growing impact on our tamariki and rangatahi.

Delivered by Cure Kids, Aotearoa New Zealand’s largest funder of child health research outside of the government, the report highlights key priorities for urgent action to improve the health and wellbeing of our tamariki.

Cure Kids CEO Frances Benge says the report, which is the result of extensive research and collaboration with the Paediatric Society of New Zealand, the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, and the New Zealand Child and Youth Epidemiology Service, identifies a number of concerning trends in child health.

“New Zealand continues to face significant challenges in the area of child health, with many children suffering from preventable illnesses and health conditions. Not only have rates of hospital admissions remained unacceptably high over two decades, but the burden of disease is inequitable,” she says.

The report analyses the most up-to-date national data, from 2000 to the end of 2021, which show the growing inequity in child health in New Zealand; Māori children, Pasifika children, and children living in areas with greatest socioeconomic deprivation are disproportionately affected.

“These health issues cause crises for children and their whānau, requiring visits to hospital, time away from school and significant disruption to families. In the long term, this burden of disease causes chronic conditions which persist into adulthood, with significant social and economic impacts for Aotearoa New Zealand,” says Frances.

Four major classes of health issues which impact the lives of infants, children, and young people in Aotearoa were analysed. Across the health areas examined, including respiratory conditions, rheumatic fever, skin infections and mental health, the report found:

Respiratory conditions

  • ​​Respiratory conditions are responsible for about a third of all acute hospitalisations for children
  • Three quarters of these hospitalisations for respiratory conditions are for preschool children
  • Rates of disease are inequitable: rates of hospitalisations for respiratory conditions are twice as high for children who live with serious socioeconomic deprivation
  • Bronchiectasis, which is irreversible damage to the lungs, caused by respiratory infections and inflammation, is six times higher for children who live with serious socioeconomic deprivation
  • The hospitalisation rate for respiratory conditions in children has continued to increase since 2000, despite temporary reductions due to pandemic-response measures.

Acute rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease (RHD)

  • Between 2017 and 2021, Pasifika children were over 100 times more likely to be hospitalised with rheumatic fever than children of European or other ethnicities, while Māori children were 40 times more likely.

Mental health

  • Hospitalisations for young people with serious mental health concerns almost doubled over the past two decades, while in the last 10 years, psychological distress among young people rose from 5% to almost 25%.

Skin infections

  • The rate of hospitalisation for Pasifika children with skin infections is three times higher than that for children of European or other ethnicities, and for Māori children it is almost twice as high.

The report cites a number of key contributing factors, including high rates of child poverty, unhealthy housing conditions, inadequate access to healthcare services in some areas, a lack of funding for vital research into childhood diseases, and complex social pressures affecting mental health.

Frances says Cure Kids aims to galvanise action on these health issues. “The high rates of disease among our tamariki are shocking and demonstrate an urgent need for change. We need help to fund research across these key issues to get ahead of the curve, and we need the government to implement solutions where the evidence is already clear.

“These include targeted investment into the health of children, as well as greater public and private collaboration to find and fund solutions which will generate long-term benefits for the future of our tamariki and rangatahi, as well as for Aotearoa."

Rheumatic fever/ RHD aren't such a high burden overall - only for Pasifika and Maori kids - and particularly compared with other OECD countries

Read the full report on the State of Child Health in Aotearoa New Zealand for 2022