Respiratory diseases cost $6 billion per year - Māori, Pacific fare worst

By Leo Horgan


Respiratory disease continues to make a substantial contribution to New Zealand’s health burden.  Over the past 15 years, hospitalisation rates have increased for bronchiectasis, childhood bronchiolitis and total respiratory disease.  

The Impact of Respiratory Disease in New Zealand: 2016 Update, commissioned by the Asthma and Respiratory Foundation NZ, reported that respiratory disease accounted for one in 10 overnight hospitalisations and costs the country more than $6 billion per year.

Six indicators were assessed for the report, including asthma, bronchiectasis, childhood bronchiolitis and pneumonia, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and total respiratory disease.

A high degree of socio-economic and ethnic inequality was highlighted as “by far the most relentless and disturbing pattern” the report said.

Pacific peoples’ respiratory health was consistently poorest across all indicators, followed by Māori. Across all age groups, respiratory hospitalisation rates are much higher for Pacific peoples (3.1 times higher) and Māori (2.4 times higher) than for other ethnic groups.

High inequalities in respiratory hospitalisations by socio-economic deprivation were prevalent. Differences between the most and least deprived areas range from a rate ratio of 2.9 for childhood pneumonia, 5.2 for childhood bronchiolitis and 5.7 for adult COPD.

The report highlighted the effect of deprivation as “near exponential”.

While overall mortality rates caused by respiratory disease have declined slightly in the last 15 years, mortality rates are two times higher for both Māori and those living in the most deprived areas.

In November 2015, the Foundation launched the New Zealand Respiratory Strategy, a call to action for urgent recommendations to reduce the incidence and impact of respiratory disease, and eliminate equalities in respiratory health.