By Paul Yandall



The health of South Auckland children has fallen to a "critical level of unacceptability," with some diseases reaching Third World levels.



A report for the Counties Manukau Health Council finds the health of South Auckland children has grown worse in the five years since a Child Health Status Report in 1994 called for urgent action.



The updated Child Health Status Report finds the rates of some communicable diseases, vision and hearing failure rates for Pacific Island children and the number of children needing treatment have all increased.

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It also highlights a high cot-death rate, the poor rate of immunisation, and a worrying slide in nutrition levels.



The alarming statistics include:



* South Auckland has four times the national rate of measles.



* At least a third of the children seen at Middlemore Hospital are iron deficient.



* Only a third of preschool children are enrolled with the dental service.



* Immunisation rates are between 56 per cent and 76 per cent, compared with national rates of 83 to 87 per cent.



* Three times as many children as five years ago need free breakfasts and lunches at school.



Health Council chairman Len Brown said the report showed the need for a greater commitment from the Government.

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There needed to be closer coordination of South Auckland's health services, but simply throwing money at the problem would not solve it.



"Unfortunately, the real causes are so deep-seated. Socio-economic factors - poor housing, lack of accessibility, communication - it all plays a part."



Report author Joy Simpson said the findings made grim reading.



Since the 1994 Child Health Status Report, there had been a raft of changes to improve accessibility.



"Services have improved, but they're really just the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff."



Communicable diseases such as meningitis, measles, whooping cough, and bronchial illnesses had all increased, particularly among Pacific Island families. The rates of some diseases equalled Third World levels.



"The damp and overcrowded living circumstances of a lot of families - they're just the sort of parameters that the diseases need to take off."



The report foreshadows an extensive South Auckland Health report on child health due in a few weeks. South Auckland Health runs Middlemore Hospital and a range of community health and mental health services.



The head of community paediatrics at Middlemore Hospital, Dr Adrian Trenholme, said initiatives on children's health had been put in place since the 1994 report, including shorter waiting lists for ear, nose and throat surgery, and planning for a new children's hospital at Middlemore.