Hon Peter Dunne Associate Minister of Health
Speech: New Zealand
16 February 2015 Speech
Opening Address of the Public Health Response to Climate Change
- Mitigation, Adaptation and Action, University of Otago,
Tena koutou katoa, good morning, and thank you for the
invitation to speak today at the opening of the 2015 public health
summer school course on public health responses to climate
I would like to begin by welcoming all of you, including those
of you who have elected to attend by internet-based video
conference. And I would like to acknowledge the organisers and
today's speakers who have travelled from around New Zealand to be
Climate change, and its impacts, is widely recognised as one of
the most pressing issues of our time.
It is often seen in the context of a major environmental
problem, or a human development and population issue. It is all of
those things, but I want to focus this morning on climate change as
a public health issue.
The 2014 World Health Organisation conference on climate and
health made pointed reference to the fact that human beings really
are the most important species endangered by climate change.
I have worked on the fringe of climate change issues for a long
time. I led the New Zealand delegation to the first international
governmental conference on climate change in Nordwijk, Holland over
25 years ago in 1989, and as Associate Minister for the Environment
around that time was closely involved in first
stages of the development of New Zealand's response in advance of
the major United Nations sponsored conference in Rio de Janeiro in
More recently, in 2009 I chaired the multiparty select committee
which carried out the review of New Zealand's emissions trading
scheme. Now, as Associate Minister of Health, I am working with the
public health implications of climate change, given my delegated
responsibility for environmental health.
And I am pleased at the work the Ministry of Health is currently
doing in this space.
The Ministry has funded the development of environmental health
indicators on climate change which include hot days - that is the
numbers of days reaching temperatures of 25degrees or above - and
soil moisture. We are also watching the incidence of diseases like
salmonellosis and cryptosporidiosis, as Health experts believe that
we will see higher rates of these diseases as conditions gets
Health officials are also implementing programmes to detect new
species of mosquitoes entering New Zealand, that may establish here
and cause arboviral diseases. If we do detect new species of
mosquitoes early, we are more likely to be able to eradicate
Starting in 1998, the Ministry of Health initiated the
eradication of the southern saltmarsh mosquito from New Zealand,
because this mosquito is able to vector diseases such as Ross River
virus disease. This programme took over ten years and cost the
Government more than $50 million dollars, but by the time
it ended in 2010 under the stewardship of the Ministry of Primary
Industries, it was the first time a saltmarsh mosquito species had
been successfully eradicated anywhere in the world.
However, Ross River virus disease is actually one of the less
serious mosquito-borne diseases. While it can cause an arthritic
condition that can last for weeks or months, some other arboviral
diseases cause even worse symptoms and can have high mortality
Warmer and wetter weather increases opportunities for these
dangerous mosquito species becoming established in New Zealand if
they are not detected on arrival and public health officers are
frequently responding to mosquitoes intercepted at the border.
Thankfully most of these are local species, but we have found
mosquitoes at the border that would be able to transmit yellow
fever, dengue or malaria if they established in New Zealand. Health
officials have estimated that a dengue fever outbreak in New
Zealand would conservatively cost the country in the order of $250
If 100,000 people were exposed, we would expect around a
thousand cases of dengue fever and ten cases of dengue haemorrhagic
fever. A hundred people would need to be hospitalised for a week
and ten people would need intensive care. At least one person would
die. The costs to tourism and business from cancelled bookings
would be in the order of five percent of foreign exchange earnings
for the year.
So not something to take lightly.
Needless to say I also recognise that the health sector cannot
work in isolation. Ministry for Primary industries biosecurity
officers ensure aircraft are disinsected and risk goods are
fumigated. Ministry of Health officials work with agencies such as
the Ministry for the Environment, who are responsible for leading
the development, coordination and implementation of
'whole-of-government' climate change policy as it relates to both
climate change mitigation and adaptation and, where appropriate,
impacts on human health.
So how can the health system, including the Ministry of Health,
district health boards and public health units contribute to a
You will be hearing about some exciting work happening in
district health boards. You will hear about Counties Manukau DHB
being certified under the Emissions Measurement and Reduction
Scheme, which is part of the carboNZero programme established in
2001 by Landcare Research New Zealand.
Learning from each other is critical. This one-day course is a
wonderful opportunity for you all to connect and communicate with
each other, to learn from each other and to continue to build on
your knowledge and expertise.
I would like to reiterate my best wishes to you all for a
productive and informative day ahead. I wish you well in your work
and look forward to seeing the fruit of today's discussions
becoming part of New Zealand's ongoing response to climate