RACP warns that COVID-19 pandemic may exacerbate existing inequities in Aotearoa NZ

April 24, 2020

The Royal Australasian College of Physicians’ (RACP) says that the COVID-19 pandemic may exacerbate existing inequities in Aotearoa NZ without the right exit strategy, and that the campaign to #MakeHealthEquityTheNorm is more important now than ever.

Dr Jeff Brown, the RACP’s Aotearoa NZ President, and a Paediatrician at Palmerston North Hospital said, “With people staying indoors and at home for now, the pandemic exit strategy needs to keep health equity – particularly in housing, work and wellbeing – as the central guiding principle.”

The RACP is calling for the Government to extend the doubled 2020 Winter Energy Payment to low-income households, and those receiving the Government’s Wage Subsidy. Currently it is available only to households receiving a government benefit, including superannuation.

“Every winter, we see kids coming into hospital with respiratory infections worsened by cold housing. With so many families experiencing hardship and loss of income due to COVID-19, I don’t want to see more kids on the ward with bronchiolitis and pneumonia because there’s no money left over to turn the heater on.

“The RACP continues to advocate for health equity. We want healthy housing, good work and whānau wellbeing to be the norm for all people in Aotearoa NZ.

“COVID-19 has not changed these priorities – if anything, they are more important than ever.

“When Aotearoa NZ emerges from the chrysalis of COVID-19, what new kind of norm do we want?”

“This has to be an opportunity to do better for our most vulnerable whānau, so that everyone can thrive. We don’t want to see existing inequities deepened by this pandemic”, Dr Brown said.

“There will be many families with people now out of work facing tremendous uncertainty. Many of these same families were already struggling to pay rents, to get food on the table and keep the lights and the heater on.” 

Dr Brown says the overwhelming demand for food parcels and high numbers of applications for special needs grants from the Ministry of Social Development is evidence that things are increasingly desperate for low-income families.

“Existing inequities are at risk of being exacerbated. The Pharmacy Guild has estimated that around 20 per cent fewer prescriptions are being dispensed – that is likely to include people who are delaying accessing essential health care, due to fears they will contract the virus or barriers to access”.

“Around 30 per cent of households could not pay an unexpected bill of $500 or more without borrowing. Whānau are living pay cheque to pay cheque already – COVID-19 will see work dry up overnight across entire workforces. The strain of this sort of direct hit on a household’s income is potentially devastating”.

“Our College wants the norm in Aotearoa NZ to be one where homes are warm and dry, the minimum wage is the Living Wage and all people enjoy good health and wellbeing”.

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