Pre­ventable dis­eases are a trav­esty

South Waikato News - - OPINION - By TAR­I­ANA TURIA

He taonga te ta­maiti, ev­ery child is a trea­sure. I be­lieve this to be a univer­sal value that ap­plies to all of us here in Aotearoa.

It is chil­dren who fill our lives with joy, laugh­ter, and also hope. They are a gift to ev­ery whanau, an ex­ten­sion of our­selves, and also an­other link in the chain that con­nects our whaka­papa from the past to the fu­ture.

They are in­deed a trea­sure, and as whanau and rel­a­tives we have a re­spon­si­bil­ity to care for our chil­dren, so that they may have a bright fu­ture and one day be­come won­der­ful par­ents and care­givers them­selves.

I wanted to talk about chil­dren to­day, be­cause over the last few months, the health is­sues faced by chil­dren have come clearly into fo­cus for politi­cians.

Most re­cently, a re­port com­mis­sioned by the Min­istry of Health re­vealed key in­for­ma­tion on the num­bers of Maori chil­dren and young peo­ple liv­ing with chronic con­di­tions and dis­abil­i­ties.

The re­port, Te Ohonga Ake, pro­duced by the Univer­sity of Otago, showed that the rate of Maori chil­dren who had ill­nesses re­lated to so­cio-eco­nomic fac­tors, such as res­pi­ra­tory dis­eases has risen rapidly since the mid 2000s. The most con­cern­ing find­ing per­haps was that Maori chil­dren were ad­mit­ted to hospi­tal at a rate 23 times that of nonMaori for rheumatic fever, which is a pre­ventable ill­ness.

This is a trav­esty for our chil­dren, a blight on our na­tion, and a timely re­minder that we have much work to do to im­prove the health and so­cial out­comes of fu­ture gen­er­a­tions in this coun­try.

In terms of rheumatic fever, the Maori Party has ad­vo­cated to have more money put into the preven­tion of this ill­ness. To date, we have se­cured $24 mil­lion, and by the end of this year, more than 35,000 chil­dren and young peo­ple will be cov­ered by pro­grammes funded un­der this ini­tia­tive.

The fact of the mat­ter is, how­ever, that we should never have seen the rate of rheumatic fever rise in the first place. As a pre­ventable ill­ness, which we know is as­so­ci­ated with low so­cio-eco­nomic con­di­tions, we had the power to pre­vent it. In later life, pre­ma­ture death from many chronic con­di­tions is sig­nif­i­cantly higher for Maori than it is for nonMaori; what we do to­day has ma­jor con­se­quences for our fu­ture.

The other is­sue given pri­or­ity in Te Ohonga Ake is dis­abil­ity data about chil­dren and young peo­ple at a level we have never seen be­fore. So of­ten with­out the data, the unique needs of this pop­u­la­tion are in­vis­i­ble and hence ig­nored.

If we re­ally want to im­prove the health of our young chil­dren in this coun­try, we need early sup­port and preven­tion sys­tems in place. Gov­ern­ment has a role to play in this, and that is why Pita Sharples and my­self have taken on the Min­is­te­rial roles that we have – so we can get stuck in to find­ing so­lu­tions and sys­tems that work for our peo­ple.

I also per­son­ally be­lieve that there is no bet­ter sup­port sys­tem out there, than the one you have in your own home – your whanau.


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