Call for action to fight child poverty

Those whose job it is to look after the health of children have been encouraged to help the struggle against child poverty in New Zealand.

Poverty and the adverse impact it has on children's health was among the subjects discussed at the Paediatric Society's annual conference, which wrapped up in Palmerston North yesterday.

An estimated one in five children in New Zealand live in poverty. A raft of preventable diseases, including rheumatic fever, skin infections and respiratory illnesses are reported at much higher rates in low socio-economic areas.

Professor Innes Asher from the Child Poverty Action Group told conference-goers they had the authority to speak out on the issues.

"As health professionals we have authority of our experience with the individual children we have seen and the authority of our research based knowledge."

Prof Asher urged her colleagues to talk to their local MPs, Ministry of Health staff, service groups, schools and anyone else they could share their knowledge with. She gave numerous statistics comparing New Zealand's record on child health with other OECD countries, the correlation between poverty and several diseases and between government policy and rates of poverty.

Co-convener and housing spokesperson for CPAG Alan Johnson spoke about New Zealand's shortage of affordable housing and the economic and government factors that had driven it.

Poverty in New Zealand was not because of a scarcity of resources he said, but because of how those resources were distributed. Poverty existed because society allowed it to.

Auckland University medical student Elizabeth Coster shared findings from a review she had done into cases at Starship Hospital.

She found that while staff had a firm understanding of the link between low-quality housing and the so-called poverty diseases, they were rarely recording a child's living situation in their notes.

Wider recording of a patient's housing situation would make it easier to collect data showing the link between diseases and living in overcrowded or damp homes, she said. That data could then be used to shape policy.

Manawatu Standard