Deaths of children and youth aged 28 days to 24 years in the Bay of Plenty District Health Board area

2010-2014: 173 • 2009-2013: 192 • 2008-2012: 197 • 2007-2011: 219 • 2006-2010: 206 - NZ Mortality Review Data Group, University of Otago

Fewer children and young people are dying in the Bay of Plenty compared to five years ago, a new report shows.

The Child and Youth Mortality Review Committee data report, which covers a period of five years and is published annually, shows deaths of children and young people in the Bay of Plenty District Health Board region have declined in recent years.

In the most recent reporting period of 2010-2014, there were 173 children and youths that died in the region, compared to 206 deaths in the 2006-2010 report.

Causes of death were not broken down to regional level.

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Nationally, the bulk of unintentional injury deaths were caused by car crashes, although more children and young people died from medical causes.

The largest single cause of death was suicide, which had increased in the time period.

Bay of Plenty District Health Board general manager governance and quality Gail Bingham said child deaths in the Bay had noticeably decreased in the area of Sudden Unexpected Death in Infancy (SUDI).

"We have not had a SUDI in nearly three years. This has been largely attributed to the BOPDHB/Plunket Pepi-Pod and safe infant sleep programs."

She said the leading causes of death were medical conditions, including neoplasms and congenital anomalies, or unintentional injuries, with transport crashes the main cause.

The health board had concerns about Plunket's recent withdrawal from the infant car seat program, Ms Bingham said, and the underutilisation of child restraints in vehicles in rural areas.

The health board's actions to reduce child deaths was focused on safe sleep, vehicle restraints and domestic violence.

Ministry of Health chief advisor of Child and Youth Health Pat Tuohy said there were 846 young people alive this year alone that would otherwise be dead if the death rate had not reduced from its 1980 level.

In 1980, 1334 young people aged under 25 died. In 2014, that figure had dropped by more than two thirds, to 488.

Dr Tuohy said the reduction had in large part been due to fewer deaths on the roads as a result of progressive changes to road safety over that time. Lower driver alcohol limits, public awareness campaigns, compulsory breath testing, speed cameras, the graduated driver licensing system and improved vehicle safety have all contributed to fewer road deaths.

Substantial numbers of infant lives had been saved as a result of improved education and practices with babies sleeping on their backs, breastfeeding, smokefree pregnancies and homes, and sleeping baby in its own bed.

Suicide rates in young people had also declined since the 1980s, though they had plateaued in recent years.

"In health, unfortunately even one death in a young person or infant is sadly one too many and work continues to try and reduce preventable deaths even further."

ImpacTauranga manager and social worker Nynette Martin said statistics around suicide were worrying.

"That's a sad reflection on society and something we need to work together on to see change and to support our young people."

ImpacTauranga worked with many at-risk youths who were prone to thoughts of suicide, Mrs Martin said, and the organisation worked to inspire hope and future and to embrace life.

"We are very concerned about these statistics and are working very hard to counteract this."

Mrs Martin said the young people ImpacTauranga worked with were awesome, talented and resilient but at the same time, were challenged by these feelings.

To help youths dealing with thoughts of suicide, Mrs Martin said people should offer love and support, be around them and work together as a community to help provide youth services that would engage young people as a society, to value young people at all levels.

When asked whether police were doing anything to combat the high number of suicides and transport-related deaths, local police spoken to by the Bay of Plenty Times said they could not comment on this set of data because they used their own data. Police staff from the Western Bay and Rotorua sit on the Child and Youth Mortality Review Committee which produces this report.

The national police media team referred all requests for comment to the Ministry of Health.