Hungry kids scavenge pig slops
Stories of children scavenging through pig slops and downing entire bottles of antibiotics out of hunger are an "embarrassment to the country" says a Kaitaia GP.
Doctor Lance O'Sullivan said he had been doing what he could to fight the effects of child-poverty in his region but it sometimes felt like an uphill battle.
"I'd like to say they were just stories, but they are both cases that have been brought to my attention and one I actually attended on."
O'Sullivan said for things to change, "people actually needed to hear about this".
He said he was recently told by the concerned owner of a local garage that children were ferreting through a staff-room pig bucket of scraps looking for food, and about six months ago treated a young child who drank an entire bottle of antibiotics because they were hungry.
The family was so poor they were unable to pay for the petrol to get the child to the doctor, so O'Sullivan made a free-of-charge house-call.
"When I got there and opened their fridge to look at the medication it was immediately clear why the child did it. There was nothing there apart from some milk, a little bit of butter and about five or six full bottles of medication."
O'Sullivan said an additional $12 million the government was funding toward the prevention of rheumatic fever was a welcome move, but that was only one symptom of the poverty children were facing.
"If children are that deprived of food it's going to severely affect their ability to function, their ability to learn, which will have a downturn affect on their ability to gain employment further down the line. Not to mention they are malnourished, and left open to infections like pneumonia, skin infections and lots of things as well as rheumatic fever.
Revelations that children in Northland were scavenging through pig slops to find food came as no surprise to the Office of the Children's Commissioner.
Deputy Children's Commissioner Jo Cribb said child poverty was a "full priority" for the commission.
"We have brought together some of the best minds in New Zealand to look at all aspects of child poverty and bring them together - so that's housing, welfare, business, employment, education - and we've tasked them with finding a pragmatic solution that we can then recommend to the government.
The report is due to be released in August.
Cribb said poverty came in many forms and was "not an easy issue to manage".
She said it came as no surprise children were having to scavenge for food as the commission knew for a fact some children were still living off "saveloy soup" - the dregs of water left behind after boiling a pot of saveloys.
The government announced yesterday it would pump an additional $12 million into a five-year programme to reduce rheumatic fever rates in some of New Zealand's most poverty-stricken areas.
The commission supported the funding and how it was being delivered, but said it was also important to think about how other funding streams could be brought together to tackle issues relating to child poverty.
"Rheumatic fever is really just one of many symptoms of poverty, and it's how we're thinking about funding that also needs looking at.
"We need to be looking at health funding, transient living and housing funding, funding for employment - the lot," Cribb said.
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