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Government urged to address child poverty

New Zealand Medical Association chairman Dr Paul Ockelford says it is time to take action to safeguard children's health, wellbeing and future prospects. Photo / Richard Robinson
New Zealand Medical Association chairman Dr Paul Ockelford says it is time to take action to safeguard children's health, wellbeing and future prospects. Photo / Richard Robinson

The Child Poverty Action Group has added its voice to urgent calls for the Government to take urgent action to address New Zealand's rates of child poverty and ill health.

An article in today's New Zealand Medical Journal says the country's New Zealand's investment in children is low by Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development standards.

New Zealand Medical Association chairman Dr Paul Ockelford said it was time to take action to safeguard children's health, wellbeing and future prospects - a call echoed by Child Poverty Action Group spokeswoman Professor Innes Asher.

"New Zealand needs to take immediate action to address child poverty. While reports are written and committees deliberate, children are growing up in extremely deprived conditions," Prof Asher said.

"A year is not a long time for a government committee, but in the development of a child it is crucial. We know that childhood illnesses can have lifelong consequences, including cardiovascular disease and mental illness in adult life."

The Government had committed to reducing rheumatic fever, increasing immunisation rates and making primary care free after hours for children under six. However, a more comprehensive approach was needed, Mr Asher said.

"Cherry-picking individual health issues is not enough to address this complicated problem. We need to create an environment in which every child can thrive; with adequate family income, housing, nutrition, education and access to health care."

Dr Ockelford said it was time to ask tough questions.

"How much do we invest in our children? What more could we be doing to safeguard our children's health, wellbeing and future prospects?

"The article references numerous studies that demonstrate the strong correlation between social determinants, such as damp, overcrowded housing and poor nutrition, and ill health. There is overwhelming evidence of the causes, but thankfully also comprehensive evidence about what we can do to reduce health inequities."

Dr Ockelford said high-quality maternity services, parenting programmes and early childhood education were needed to give children the best start in live.

The authors of the article make 10 evidence-based recommendations to achieve optimal child health but stress that a comprehensive approach is needed, rather than "cherry-picking of individual recommendations".

Recommendations include a National Children's Action Plan; establishing indicators for child health and wellbeing; and broadening programmes that improve home heating and insulation.

"We need a child-centred society that values and invests in its most vulnerable citizens. This is by far the best investment we can make to help ensure a productive, resilient, inclusive society. The time to act is now," Dr Ockelford said.

- APNZ

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