State medicine agency Pharmac will fund an asthma drug it hopes will reduce the number of children admitted to hospital with breathing difficulties.
Montelukast, a pill that treats respiratory conditions, will be available for children under five who suffer recurrent wheezing, people of all ages who suffer exercise-induced asthma, and a smaller group of people undergoing aspirin desensitisation programmes.
Pharmac medical director Peter Moodie said recurrent wheezing could be frequent and distressing for children and their parents, and often led to children being admitted to hospital.
Asthma inhalers would still be the standard treatment for most children, but up to 7500 children a year who could not get relief from inhalers were expected to benefit from montelukast.
"We would expect to see the number of children admitted to hospital with breathing difficulties to reduce as a result of this decision," Dr Moodie said.
Another 2000 people with exercise-induced asthma were expected to be treated with montelukast each year.
Pharmac will fund the drug from tomorrow at a cost of $2.3 million over five years.
As part of the agreement with manufacturer Merck Sharp and Dohme, Pharmac will also fund the scabies treatment ivermectin, which is used as an alternative to topical creams in severe cases.
The pill is expected to be used by about 10,000 patients a year at a cost of $1.4m over five years.