Whanganui rates for sudden infant deaths are still among the highest in New Zealand.

And that is despite several initiatives by the Whanganui District Health Board to reduce the toll.

But now there is hope that plans by Health Minister Jonathan Coleman to reduce Sudden Unexpected Death in Infancy (SUDI) will save lives.

The Government aims to decrease rates of deathsby funding free sleeping pods for babies, with bed-sharing by infants and parents cited as one of the main risk factors. It will also target smoking during pregnancy which is another high-risk factor.

Advertisement

National mortality rates are approximately 0.7 in every 1000 babies born, and 1.59 for every 1000 Maori infants.

But in Whanganui SUDI rates are in total 1.65 per 1000 infants and 3.02 per 1000 for Maori babies.

That is an improvement from 2012 when Whanganui had the highest death rate in New Zealand at 4.03 deaths of babies aged 28 days to one year for every 1000 births.

Whanganui director of Maori health Rowena Kui said the health board was taking a comprehensive approach to reduce SUDI risk factors for all families.

"We know because the rate of Maori infants who die from SUDI is disproportionately high. It is crucial that Maori whanau benefit from, the initiatives we have available," Mrs Kui said.

Over the past 18 months the Whanganui Regional Health Organisation has distributed 337 sleeping pods - 215 or 64 per cent were to Maori whanau.

Other local initiatives include breastfeeding advice and support, smoking cessation support for pregnant women and access to a healthy homes project.

Dr Coleman last week announced an extra $2 million for the SUDI prevention programme, taking its annual budget to $5 million.

He said from September the Government would provide safe sleep devices to families identified as needing them during the baby's first year of life.

Although the Whanagui health board has a scheme in place, Dr Coleman said the new programme would be nationally co-ordinated.

"More needs to be done to address our SUDI rate, and by adopting this evidence-based approach, it's hoped that real and meaningful change can be achieved," Dr Coleman said.