Media release: PHA defends government’s approach to COVID-19

17 Apr 2020 10:22 AM | Anonymous

Public Health Association defends government’s approach to COVID-19

                                                      

The Public Health Association supports the public health leadership demonstrated by New Zealand’s government in its pandemic response to COVID-19. Many more people would have died without this rapid evidence-based operation.

CEO Dr Prudence Stone says many PHA members expressed their disappointment to her this week that a few members of the academic community were publicly questioning New Zealand’s response to COVID-19.

“The aim for our government is to ensure that New Zealand does not see the kinds of scenes we see playing out every day on our TV screens: the chaos, confusion and utter despair in European cities and now the United States” Dr Stone said.

“When we don’t see these same results here, we shouldn’t jump to a conclusion that COVID-19 in Aotearoa is, as Simon Thornley says, ‘not the disaster we feared’. It would have been without the government action. We averted it through preventative policy. That’s public health in action.”

Members of the Public Health Association are mindful, however, that New Zealand’s Health & Disability System, as well as its Welfare System, were under review as New Zealand went into lockdown. The Health & Disability System Review panel looked at evidence showing health outcomes were inequitable in New Zealand by race, mental health, sexuality and disability. The Welfare Expert Advisory Group saw evidence that New Zealanders seeking income support were not being treated with dignity by our welfare system.

“In a pandemic, this inequity of health outcomes and poor service to New Zealanders needing income support will only be amplified,” Dr Stone said, “unless we take action on addressing these inequalities with the same public health approach by our leaders.”

Dr Stone said the Public Health experts among the PHA’s membership acknowledged that elimination of the COVID-19 virus may not be possible globally, unless and until a vaccine is discovered and distributed everywhere. Elimination within New Zealand should however be  possible before any global end-point, provided that the present level of public health action is maintained and combined with effective longterm border protections.

“On both fronts, national and global, the public health approach is necessary to not only prevent the disease spreading, but eliminate it one day altogether,” said Dr Stone. “New Zealand must ensure it can import a vaccine, if and when one is developed, with an equitable distribution programme to implement its supply here in Aotearoa. If there are roadblocks to either, government should clear them now. That’s more public health action to come that is clearly necessary.”

The Public Health Association’s Asian Caucus Chair Dr Lifeng Zhou hopes the public remains assured of the measures being taken by government and follows the appropriate code of the Alert Level government makes official throughout this pandemic. New Zealand’s approach is being heralded internationally as a best case scenario and example of the Public Health framework being applied by decision makers.

“We all need to draw on our common humanity and be explicit about our values. Recognising this will help us make good decisions in difficult situations so that, for example, the need to impose restrictive measures and to protect ourselves does not conflict with fairness, respect, and neighbourliness” Dr Lifeng Zhou said.

Contacts for Media:

Dr Prudence Stone, CEO 027 2898987

Dr Lifeng Zhou, Asian Caucus Chair Lifeng.Zhou@waitematadhb@govt.nz

 

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Letter to the Listener 28 July 2017 in response to Fever Pitch (Listener 21 July 2017)

Catherine Woulfe’s thorough investigation of rheumatic fever brings to the surface a range of important questions not only about this cruel disease, but also wider issues about health policy. The Government’s bold initiative to reduce the incidence of rheumatic fever as one of its 'Better Public Service' targets in 2012 certainly raised awareness of rheumatic fever for the general public as well as communities and families directly affected. But even when medical science and the public have a clearer understanding of the immediate causes of rheumatic fever, interventions like the $65m ‘sore throats matter’ still won’t stop the epidemic. 

Ramona Tiatia’s blunt description of the experience of affected families not only painted a picture of the impact on affected families and communities, it also highlighted the invidious choices our health funders face.  How much should we prioritise health spending between response to the urgent need of young people whose lives and potential can be devastated by the disease versus the expense of addressing the economic and social factors that underlie the reasons we have this epidemic at all?   

As several of the clinicians interviewed pointed out, it’s only when the poverty and over-crowded housing issues are addressed that we will make a real difference.

Rheumatic fever illustrates the contradictions in our health system identified in the recent American Commonwealth Fund report. Of the 11 countries the Fund monitors, the work our health professionals do is ranked among the highest. But our overall performance as a health system falls to the middle ranking because of our poor performance on access and equity. The Fund also notes that our per capita expenditure is among the cheapest. 

Failure to invest in real prevention - that is, poverty, housing, good nutrition etc. - will continue to drive conditions like rheumatic fever, whether the immediate cause is strep throat or skin sores, until we invest upstream.

Why not spend more on these conditions - the economic and social determinants of health? 

We all pay in the long run - the young people whose misery we tolerate and whose potential remains unfulfilled, the families whose sacrifices are unrewarded, and the taxpayer who picks up the tab.

Ngā mihi,
Warren Lindberg

CE Public Health Association of New Zealand

                                            

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