When Kiwis are out of breath, all of us are out of pocket.
Chronic and serious respiratory illnesses cost our economy $6.1
billion in 2013, according to official figures.
Research from the University of Otago, released on Monday,
coughed up this figure as the estimated total cost of asthma,
bronchiectasis, childhood bronchiolitis, pneumonia and chronic
obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
"The extreme poverty is the real kicker," lead author Dr Lucy
Poverty was labelled the key culprit for increased hospital
visits in children and elderly people living with chronic lung
conditions, such as bronchiectasis.
In the most deprived areas, hospitalisations for asthma were
nearly four times higher than they were in wealthy areas.
Data came from the New Zealand Health Survey, as well as
pharmaceutical prescriptions, hospitalisations and mortality data
between 2000 and 2015.
The Counties Manukau, Lakes, and Northland district health
boards had the highest total respiratory hospitalisation rates.
The $6.1b figure jumped from $5.5b in a 2014 report, which was
the first time such an equation had been done.
The same figures are not available for cancer - our biggest
killer - but Telfar-Barnard expected the economical cost of cancer
would be higher, simply because cancer kills more people.
Bronchiectasis increases in children were the most surprising
finding for Telfar-Barnard. The condition is caused by scarring on
the lungs from recurring severe chest infections.
"Doctors are diagnosing bronchiectasis in children at younger
ages. That means that things are getting worse."
In February 2016, 2-year-old Ataahua Journey Harris-Timoti, of
Wainuiomata in the Hutt Valley, died after a battle with
The condition claims the life of one New Zealander aged 14 or
under every 18 months.
The total rise in economical cost is mostly due to rising
hospitalisation rates and the increase in the value of a life -
which in 2015 was $4.06m per fatality.
The value of a life rises every year, so Telfar-Barnard said she
expected some rise, but not as much as $500m.
She described the findings as sobering.
"[There's] that difficult choice of being depressed or
One in six New Zealanders live with a respiratory condition, and
these rates are worsening.
Respiratory disease and stroke jostle for third place in
mortality stakes for Kiwis, behind cancer and heart disease.
Hospitalisation rates for bronchiectasis increased by 41 per
cent between 2000 and 2015, but asthma hospitalisations have been
Overall, respiratory deaths have declined slightly in the past
15 years. But both Maori and those living in the most deprived
areas are twice as likely than anyone else to die from a
The combined effect of ethnicity and deprivation meant Maori and
Pacific children in the most deprived areas were more than seven
times as likely to be hospitalised than other children in the
HOW DO WE FIX THIS?
In November 2015, the Foundation launched the New Zealand
Respiratory Strategy, a call to action for urgent recommendations
to reduce cases and effects of respiratory disease, and remove
Telfar-Barnard, who also specialises in housing quality in New
Zealand, said she would like to see "a determined effort" over
time to tackle respiratory conditions.
This has to start with policy, she said.
"There has to be a strong policy response and introducing those
policies needs a determined effort."
THE COST OF COUGHING
* Doctors' visits: $45m
* Prescriptions: $74m
* Hospitalisations: $363m
* Years lost to disability: $1.248b
* Mortality: $4.431b
* Total: $6.16b