Preventable diseases are a travesty
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.