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Waikato children are dying from Third World poverty-related diseases, says a leading Hamilton paediatrician.

Dr David Graham says hundreds of children each year are admitted to Waikato Hospital with preventable diseases like whooping cough and rheumatic fever.

He is calling for a national database detailing children's health, and better education and support for parents.

Figures showing how many children are dying from diseases such as rheumatic fever will be released this week.

One of Dr Graham's patients is Ambrose Nicholls.

A check on the five-month-old from Morrinsville using a stethoscope made it apparent why he was hooked up to an oxygen supply.

His little diaphragm heaved erratically as his rumbling lungs battled with bronchiolitis, a viral disease often associated with poverty and overcrowding.

It was his second fight for life since birth. At three months, he spent a week in hospital with whooping cough.

"In the first three months of life, it's life-threatening," Dr Graham said.

"We can't do much, other than support them and make sure they don't stop breathing on us."

Ambrose had received his initial whooping cough vaccination, but it hadn't had time to work. "It only takes one unvaccinated child to spread the disease," Dr Graham said.

Waikato's child health statistics included:

* 763 admissions for bronchiolitis over the past 18 months

* 109 cases of whooping cough for the same period

* 40 cases of broncho pneumonia each year

* 140 children admitted with serious dental disease each year

* 25 cases of meningitis in 14 months, of which 18 developed potentially fatal meningococcaemia (blood poisoning).

* 370 asthma admissions a year

Dr Graham said on a per capita basis the rate of illness outstripped South Auckland's.

He said the suffering was preventable but hospitals could not make it happen. Change had to come from the top, via government and community agencies.

It is estimated some 12,000 Waikato children, many living in rural areas, have yet to be enrolled in primary health organisations.

- NZPA

Herald Feature: Health

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