This call from CPAG, an independent charity working to eliminate child poverty in New Zealand through research, education and advocacy, comes after the latest report from the Asthma and Respiratory Foundation, whose data indicated that respiratory conditions like bronchiectasis represent a heavy and growing health burden.
According to the report, chronic and serious respiratory illnesses continue to be a problem in New Zealand, particularly among children, with emphasis given to pneumonia, asthma, bronchiolitis (a severe viral chest infection) and bronchiectasis. Respiratory diagnoses accounted for 1 in 10 of all overnight hospitalizations in 2015.
These respiratory diseases often have their roots in poverty and unhealthy housing, and could be prevented. However, targeting specific illnesses is not enough.
“These diseases are much more likely to affect children living in poverty. Bronchiectasis is a particularly severe chronic disease that leads to lifelong health problems,” Professor Innes Asher, with CPAG, said in news release.
“In particular the link to poor housing conditions is crucial” Asher said. “Cold, damp houses and poor nutrition make a child more susceptible to illnesses, particularly for children under five whose immune systems are not fully developed, while illnesses spread much more easily through overcrowded houses. Parents may be unable to take sick leave to care for ill children for fear of losing income and tax credit supports.”
The rates of bronchiectasis, in particular, more than doubled from 2000 to 2015, the report states. Bronchiectasis is a chronic respiratory diseases where the walls of the bronchi are thickened from inflammation and infection. People with bronchiectasis have periodic flares of breathing difficulties, called exacerbations.
New Zealand’s government should increase the supply of affordable healthy housing, the CPAG says, by ensuring that all families are equipped with the incomes they need to effectively heat their houses and to fulfill their children’s basic needs.