Election '17 —  A Health System That Works For Kids

If you want to see the impact of growing up in poverty, have a look in the emergency rooms of NZ's hospitals. Poverty and poor housing is making our kids sick.
Published on
September 13, 2017

If you want to see the impact of growing up in poverty, have a look in the emergency rooms of our country’s hospitals.

The impact of poor housing, and poverty-related stress — which culminates in family violence or alcohol related accidents — shows up at all hours.

It is placing an enormous burden on our health system

The vision we have is that no child in New Zealand would ever need the ER because of the conditions they live in, but to achieve that we have to create a health system that is financially secure, and provided with the resources to protect children from the impacts of poverty.

Our health system is just like an income-poor household — keeping its head above water, but unable to focus on making vital changes that will pay off in the long term.

Our health system spends so much of its resources on those who are sick because of poverty, poor housing, poverty-related stress and addiction, and poor mental health, that it has nothing left to prevent people from getting sick in the first place.

Our health system is just like an income-poor household — keeping its head above water, but unable to focus on making vital changes that will pay off in the long term.

Under current funding levels, all hospitals and health providers can do is keep bare bones operations running to handle all the incidents of poverty-related sickness.

Unicef supports policies that are as much about ensuring that children don’t get sick in the first place, as ensuring necessary care is available when they do.

We don’t feel that this is a controversial platform. Few people would argue against the need for better healthcare. When health is strapped for funding, it can only provide the bones of healthcare. By ensuring our children are healthier, we ensure they have brighter futures. We need our system to work for everybody — providing support to families with disabled members, and providing culturally appropriate choices and services for Maori, Pacific, and immigrant communities.

We would like to see healthcare providers funded so that they can provide the full range of services across mental health, sexual health, special needs (such as disabilities) and public health, such as community gardens and more smoke free environments. These “extra” health services are often first to go when health funding is frozen.

Respiratory disease affects one in six New Zealanders, and costs us six billion dollars a year. It is our third highest cause of death. The state of New Zealand’s homes has a lot to do with that high rate.

We know that a child living in an unhealthy home — one that is damp, cold, and unventilated — is at higher risk of respiratory illness. Our rates of asthma are still among the highest in the world. According the the Asthma and Respiratory Foundation, respiratory disease affects one in six New Zealanders, and costs us six billion dollars a year. It is our third highest cause of death. The state of New Zealand’s homes has a lot to do with that high rate. So, we encourage action to improve the state of New Zealand’s housing, and provide safer environments for those children.

Secondhand smoke is another big factor causing high rates of child respiratory illness. UNICEF NZ has made submissions to Parliament on introducing legislation to make cars carrying children smokefree. The United Nations also made this recommendation to our government in 2016. The evidence is absolutely clear that this would reduce the effects of respiratory disease, and improve the health of children. We once again call for parties to make this a key platform.

We know there is not an endless pot of money to throw at health, so we also need to know that whoever is in government is using those finite resources well and wisely. Money spent on prevention saves not just the money we have to spend getting children well again, but also all the money the family spends on travel to the GP and prescriptions. It also saves the child from disruption to their education and other recreational opportunities healthy children enjoy.

By spending wisely, we can be sure that all children get the healthy start in life that they deserve, and we all have a world-class health system available for when any of us need help.

This election, when you’re casting your vote for who will lead our country, we ask you to keep the health of New Zealand children in mind.

By Vivien Maidaborn, UNICEF NZ Executive Director