New Zealanders are living longer and spending more time in good health. However, like other high-income countries, the number of years spent in poor health is also increasing.
‘‘New Zealanders are living longer because we have made good advances in health promotion and treatment, improved access to health services and quality of care,” says Keriana Brooking, Deputy Director-General Health System Improvement and Innovation at the Ministry of Health. “That’s according to the 2017 Global Burden of Disease Study which draws on data from over 190 countries and provides important insights into the health of New Zealanders. The New Zealand results and accompanying commentary have been published in ‘Longer, Healthier Lives: New Zealand’s Health 1990-2017.
“We also face significant population health challenges arising from a growing and ageing population alongside increase in prevalence of non-communicable diseases, like cancer, heart disease, respiratory disease, diabetes and mental health issues. This is reflected in an increase in the overall burden of disease.
The Global Burden of Disease Study shows that health of New Zealanders is closely related to a range of modifiable risk factors such as smoking, diet, alcohol or drug use.
“A key opportunity to improve health and wellbeing is through prevention. The report highlights that over a third of health loss is potentially preventable by addressing common risk factors in the population,” says Keriana.
“We are not on our own. Many other countries face these challenges and like us are working hard to try and make improvements where they are needed.
“The Global Burden of Disease Study helps by providing valuable information that we can apply to our day-to-day work and forward planning to reduce the individual impact of physical and mental health issues and wellbeing.
“We have many significant programmes of work underway to ensure the health system is responsive and improves wellbeing.”
Some examples of work include:
- The Health and Disability System Review underway to address long-term health challenges, such as a growing and ageing population and increased prevalence of chronic diseases, like diabetes and cancer.
- The National Cancer Action Plan (2020), which provides a system-wide approach to improving cancer outcomes and increasing health equity across the continuum of care.
- Planned Care, launched in 2019, which removes barriers to care and supports increased flexibility by enabling care to be delivered in a range of settings by a broader range of health care providers.
- Transformative work underway to improve mental health and addiction outcomes in New Zealand, including ‘Every Life Matters - He Tapu te Oranga o ia Tangata: Suicide Prevention Strategy 2019–2029 and Suicide Prevention Action Plan 2019–2024’.
- New Zealand’s first Child and Youth Wellbeing Strategy, released in 2019, and the complementary Healthy Active Learning initiative to promote and improve healthy eating and physical activity in schools, kura and early learning services across New Zealand.
“An important aspect of looking ahead is addressing health inequities for Māori and other population groups,” says Keriana. “That’s why the Ministry of Health is working closely with Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation to prepare estimates of health loss for Māori and non-Māori. This analysis, which will feature in future Global Burden of Disease Study cycles, will be a world first and will further support Government and sector work to improve health equity for Māori.”