In recent posts in this series we’ve focused on the Children’s Social Health Monitor 2012 Update Report, see the the full report (pdf) here. Today we look at the first of the Health and Wellbeing Indicators.
HOSPITAL ADMISSIONS AND MORTALITY WITH A SOCIAL GRADIENT IN CHILDREN
This is where the effects of poverty are most fundamentally and most cruelly felt – in its impact on health and mortality. The effects are in line with the economic indicators that have been covered in the report – the Maori / Pacific economic disadvantage is directly reflected in health:
In New Zealand, there are currently large disparities in child health status, with Māori and Pacific children and those living in more deprived areas experiencing a disproportionate burden of morbidity and mortality . These disparities were present even in the mid 2000s when New Zealand experienced some of its lowest unemployment rates in recent decades. The macroeconomic environment began to change in 2008, however, with the country officially entering a recession at the end of June 2008 after two consecutive quarters of negative growth. While New Zealand technically left the recession at the end of June 2009 (when quarterly growth reached +0.1% ) progress since then has been variable, with unemployment rates and the number of children reliant on benefit recipients remaining higher than in the mid-2000s.
The effects of these economic changes on socially sensitive health outcomes for children remain unclear. Research suggests that the impacts may vary, not only with the magnitude and duration of any economic downturn, but also as a result of the Government’s social policy responses and the extent to which it maintains an effective social safety net for those most affected. …
The report covers data on the distribution of causes of hospital admissions (from 2007 – 2011 the top three are Acute Bronchiolitis, Gastroenteritis, Asthma) and mortality (the top cause is Sudden Unexpected Deaths in Infancy (SUDI)). Of particular interest, as usual, are the recent trends in the data.
Hospital Admissions: In New Zealand, medical admissions with a social gradient increased during the early 2000s, reached a peak in 2002, and then declined, with an upswing in rates again being evident during 2007–2009. In contrast, injury admissions with a social gradient declined throughout 2000–2011 (Figure 20).
Mortality: In New Zealand, mortality from injuries with a social gradient decreased between 2000 and 2004, but fluctuated thereafter. Similarly, post-neonatal SUDI decreased between 2000 and 2002 and thereafter remained relatively static, while mortality from medical conditions with a social gradient fluctuated throughout 2000–2009 (Figure 20).
When broken down by primary diagnosis, trends in medical conditions with a social gradient varied by condition, with increases being evident for acute upper respiratory infections, viral infections of unspecified site, skin infections, urinary tract infections and dermatitis and eczema. In contrast, admissions for inguinal hernias, otitis media, bacterial/non-viral pneumonia and meningococcal disease declined during the 2000s (Figure 21–Figure 24).
Figure 20 is included below, for the others see the report.
Many of the medical conditions which are trending upwards are (as noted by other reports) conditions associated with overcrowding and poor living conditions – direct symptoms of poverty. Shamefully, we are seeing the re-emergence of “third world diseases” in New Zealand.
This section continues with an analysis of trends by ethnicity (as expected Maori and Pacific populations are over-represented). We’ll carry on with the second Health and Wellbeing Indicator next week.
In current news, the second anniversary of the most destructive Christchurch earthquake highlights the impact of poverty and poor living conditions in that damaged city:
Poverty strikes at home, children first victims
An increase in poverty-related illnesses and “Third World diseases” among Christchurch children is worrying health professionals and community workers.
Skin conditions such as scabies and ringworm are cropping up at city medical centres and primary schools as hundreds of families continue to live in overcrowded, damp homes almost two years after the Canterbury earthquakes. …
Some children are being sent home from school with contagious infections, and health professionals fear low-income families are shying away from medical treatment because they cannot even afford food. The problem appears to have hit the city’s Maori and Pacific Island communities hardest. …
Aranui Primary School principal Mike Allen said scabies, school sores and head lice were “anecdotally getting worse”. Jo Barlow, principal of Aranui’s St James School, had also seen a rise in scabies. Pre-earthquake, the disease was uncommon, but in the past two years at least five families had contracted it, she said.
It’s all very well having a rebuild plan for the CBD – but what is the government doing for the families and children who are still living in damaged, unhealthy, and unsafe conditions?
Here’s the standard footnote. Poverty (and inequality) were falling (albeit too slowly) under the last Labour government. Now they are on the rise again, in fact a Waikato University professor says that poverty is our biggest growth industry.
Before the last election Labour called for a cross party working group on poverty. Key turned the offer down. Report after report after report has condemned the rate of poverty in this country, and called on the government to act. Meanwhile 40,000 kids are fed by charities and up to 80,000 are going to school hungry. National has responded with complete denial of the issues, saying that the government is already doing enough to help families feed their kids. Organisations working with the poor say that Key is in poverty ‘la la land’.
The Nats refuse to even measure the problem (though they certainly believe in measurement and goals when it suits them to bash beneficiaries). In a 2012 summary of the government’s targets and goals John Armstrong wrote: “Glaringly absent is a target for reducing child poverty”…
The costs of child poverty are in the range of $6-8 Billion per year, but the Nats refuse to spend the $2 Billion that would be needed to really make a difference. Even in purely economic terms National’s attitude makes no sense.