Research conducted by Otago university concluded that Māori and Pacific people were more than twice as likely as European people to be hospitalised for a serious infectious disease. In general there was a staggering increase of 51% of patients hospitalised for serious diseases over a 20 year period from 1989-2008.
Rates for Pacific Islander and Māori populations are respectively 2.35 and 2.15 times higher than the combined rate for New Zealand Europeans and other ethnic groups, their research shows.
These results published today in the international medical journal, The Lancet came as a surprise to researchers who had expected to see a steady decline in numbers rather than an increase.
Co-author of the report, Professor Philippa Howden-Chapman, says there is a need to develop interventions that address major causes of poor health, including additional strategies to reduce poverty, lower household crowding, and improve access to immunisation and other health services.
In an accompanying editorial in The Lancet, Stephen Lim and Ali Mokdad from the University of Washington wrote: “The health of indigenous people in New Zealand has historically been poorer than the rest of the population and these findings suggest that a rising burden of infectious disease may be leading to a widening of this gap.
“Urgent action must be taken to reverse this trend.”"Fundamentally what this new research reveals is that the poorest sections of our community are bearing the brunt of an increasing burden of infectious disease, with children and older people in particular ending up in hospital; this is especially so for Maori and Pacific peoples,” he says.
For children under five years, infectious diseases now account for 64% of acute admissions for Māori children and 68% for Pacific children, compared with 55% for European and other children.
“Because Māori and Pacific populations tend to be over-represented in the poorest suburbs there is a multiplier effect regarding infectious disease risk. This has seen a 77% increase in hospitalisations for Māori and a 112% increase for Pacific peoples from the most deprived areas over the last two decades,” Baker said.
Baker says an example is rheumatic fever, which has almost disappeared as a childhood disease in Western Europe and North America, but is still a serious threat for Māori and Pacific children in New Zealand, causing heart disease and early death in adulthood.
The increased rates are adding 17,000 hospitalisations a year and tens of millions of dollars in avoidable health care costs, he said.