Letitia O’Dwyer, Chief Executive of the Asthma and Respiratory Foundation NZ (ARF NZ) talks about why the government needs a respiratory health target.

Ministry of Health targets are reviewed annually to ensure they align with health priorities, however New Zealand’s third most common cause of death still has no defined national health target with dedicated funding behind it.

On a global scale, Noncommunicable disease (NCDs) cause millions of deaths each year.

“…The global epidemic of NCDs is a major and growing challenge to development. Each year, in developing countries alone, strokes, heart attacks, cancer, diabetes or asthma kill more than 12 million people between the ages of 30 and 70…” Ban Ki-moon, eighth Secretary General of the UN stated over three years ago.

In New Zealand over 700,000 Kiwis have a respiratory condition, it’s the third most common cause of death and costs the country $6 billion each year.

Poverty is a breeding ground for respiratory diseases. The Impact of Respiratory Disease in New Zealand: 2016 Update, commissioned by ARF NZ highlighted the effect of deprivation as “near exponential”.

The government still has this major issue on the back burner.

As a country, we need to address respiratory health inequities and improve the overall high rates, and this can’t be achieved without government action. Why one of our country’s leading causes of morbidity and mortality isn’t a national health target is beyond me.

OECD statistics also indicate New Zealand has the fourth highest hospital admission rates for asthma of OECD countries. Access to primary care needs to be improved – this is an achievable goal with government support and funding.

We propose the government to step up and act upon the following target: “Reduce emergency visits for acute respiratory illnesses by 20 per cent within the next five years”.

Break down ‘silos’ to improve respiratory health

It’s obvious that one organisation or agency cannot act alone to address poverty, unhealthy housing and inadequate basic health care. There is a strong need for a government approach that ‘sees the bigger picture’ and works across all areas focusing on prevention.

The old saying the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff is still relevant today, as the same problem is still being looked at backwards.

We strongly advise the government to set a national respiratory health target that crosses the silos of the following government portfolios:

  • Health
  • Māori Development
  • Pacific Peoples
  • Social Housing
  • Education
  • Social Development
  • Social Investment
  • Whānau Ora

It’s incredibly important that the government starts thinking outside of singular portfolio areas to address the high rates of respiratory illness.

Enough evidence: Time for political focus

ARF NZ has long-held its reputable stance of producing world-class information to aid in the support, diagnosis and education of respiratory disease, and with over 50+ years of tacit and explicit knowledge in health care 2016/2017 was no exception.

Following on from Te Hā Ora: The National Respiratory Strategy launched in Nov 2015:

  • ARF NZ hosted the New Zealand Respiratory Conference with over 230 registered delegates.
  • The Impact of Respiratory Disease in New Zealand: 2016 update report was released.
  • Updated ARF NZ website launched.
  • The NZ Adult Asthma Guidelines were launched in November 2016 with three new Adult Asthma Action Plans.
  • Asthma & COPD Fundamentals training courses implemented for health professionals to enable better understanding of asthma & COPD diagnosis, treatment and education.
  • Free ‘My Asthma’ app launched on World Asthma Day, 2 May 2017 for both IOS and Android
  • Partnership program with a Māori healthcare provider to address the disproportionately higher hospitalisation rates for respiratory disease across all age groups: Maori (2.4 times higher) and for Pacific peoples (3.1 times higher) and than for other ethnic groups.
  • 2017 Election year for New Zealand and launch of the ARF NZ 2017 Political manifesto.

Having achieved all of this with no government funding, ARF NZ is right here poised to help achieve the recommended target, “Reduce emergency visits for acute respiratory illnesses by 20 per cent within the next five years”. We now ask the new government to take this social/health issue seriously and give us the reins and a budget to implement in 2018.

Letitia O’Dwyer (image at top), Chief Executive of the Asthma and Respiratory Foundation NZ (ARF NZ).

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