Downturn still making kids sick

By Martin Johnston

Poverty-related health struggles higher than before GFC, though rates are tapering off.

Hospital admissions for socio-economically sensitive conditions fell by 2 per cent last year. Photo / Getty Images
Hospital admissions for socio-economically sensitive conditions fell by 2 per cent last year. Photo / Getty Images

The number of children admitted to hospital with conditions that can be related to poverty has declined, but experts warn that the economic downturn continues to cause problems for children's health.

Excluding newborns, the rate of these kinds of hospital admissions, which are mainly for infections and respiratory diseases, declined by 2 per cent in 2011, according to the latest Children's Social Health Monitor, made public today.

But at 41.8 admissions per 1000 children aged 0 to 14, the rate was still greater than in 2007, before the recession began, when it was 36.7.

GP and child health expert Dr Nikki Turner, of Auckland University, said the report presented a mixed picture.

"On a positive note, the large increases in hospital admissions for socio-economically sensitive medical conditions seen during 2007-2009 have begun to taper off, with around 780 less admissions seen in 2011 than were seen in 2010."

This was likely to be partly due to the 2008 introduction of a pneumococcal vaccine, she said, which could be responsible for reductions in hospitalisations for bacterial pneumonia and ear infections.

But Dr Turner noted that admissions for all potentially poverty-related conditions in 2011 were still more than 4000 greater than in 2007, "with rates for a number of conditions, such as serious skin infections and acute upper respiratory tract infections [such as severe colds or sinus infections] continuing to increase".

And rates of admission remained much higher for Maori and Pacific children than for Europeans.

The head researcher for the report, Dr Elizabeth Craig of Otago University, said another negative finding was that although the number of children dependent on state benefits had decreased slightly, they still totalled 20 per cent.

Overcrowding, poor housing, childhood vaccination and access to primary healthcare all influence rates of "avoidable" hospital admissions.

Dr Craig said New Zealand had made improvements in vaccination rates, access to free after-hours primary care and home insulation to reduce cold and damp living conditions that were linked to higher rates of respiratory illness.

"On the negative side, we still haven't insulated enough houses and we've got significant overcrowding."

Associate Health Minister Tariana Turia said it was unacceptable that despite work to reduce ethnic disparities in health, Maori children were still dying and suffering from diseases at a higher rate than others.

The report

*The Children's Social Health Monitor
*Started after the recession began in 2008
*Tracks economic downturn's effects on children's poverty and health

Hospital admission rate for poverty-related medical conditions declined last year:

41.8 admissions per 1000 children aged 0-14 in 2011
42.7 per 1000 in 2010

- NZ Herald

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_n6 at 24 Sep 2014 17:40:32 Processing Time: 528ms