Dental Tribune Asia Pacific

CPAG calls for free dental care and healthcare for all youth

AUCKLAND, New Zealand: Early childhood dental caries is the most common chronic disease seen in children and a leading cause of hospital admissions for New Zealand children. The Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) is attempting to tackle the issue by calling for free universal healthcare, including dentistry, prescriptions and specialist hearing and vision care, for all children and adolescents younger than 18 years of age.

In the group’s submission to the New Zealand Health and Disability System Review, CPAG stated that universal healthcare for children should begin before they are born and should include free general practitioner (GP) visits and pregnancy-related dental care for expectant mothers. The group is also asking for more school-based initiatives and has urged the government to expand health and mental health services, to appoint more school social workers, to provide school lunches and to tax sugar-sweetened beverages.

“Research shows that adolescence is one of two periods that are critically important for social and physical development, the other being preconception to 3 years of age,” said paediatrician and CPAG children’s health spokesperson Prof. Innes Asher. “It is vital that all our teenagers can easily access appropriate and timely primary healthcare. Their health and futures should not have to rely on their families’ ability to afford healthcare, as is currently the case.”

According to the group, children living in poverty are at a higher risk of falling ill and dying compared with other children. That is why CPAG’s recommendations are designed to help achieve not only healthcare access equity but also health equity for all young people. “Primary care and public health is where our focus needs to start. Significant long-standing underfunding in these areas is one reason that too many of our children are ending up hospitalised unnecessarily,” said CPAG public health spokesperson Dr Nikki Turner, an associate professor and Director of the Immunisation Advisory Centre at the University of Auckland.

Currently, free GP visits in New Zealand are available to children aged 13 and under. Pregnant women are entitled to free maternity services but not to free GP visits or pregnancy-related dental care.

CPAG’s submission can be downloaded here.

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