Annual general meeting
Allergy New Zealand has come a long way from the small, Auckland-based support group it was 25 years ago. Chief executive Penny Jorgensen reported Allergy New Zealand’s highlights at the Annual General Meeting in August.
With the rapid increase in the prevalence of allergies we now estimate one in three people in New Zealand will have an allergy to something at some time in their lives. Of more concern are the one in 100 people whose allergy may put them at risk of severe and even life-threatening reactions – such as to food, drugs, insect venom and latex. And managing food allergy, for an estimated 4 per cent of the population, requires significant life-style changes for many, and often considerable stress and anxiety.
Our health system has, in most parts of the country, failed to acknowledge the needs of this growing population group, which includes thousands of young children. In fact the 2006 Annual Report from ASCIA estimated there is only one allergist/clinical immunologist (public and private) to 796,784 people in New Zealand, compared to one to 273,000 in Australia.
Putting this into context then, Allergy New Zealand, as the only patient-based organisation focussing specifically on allergy in New Zealand, has a potential constituency of 1.3 million people, not only of those with relatively mild allergic conditions but the many who are affected by food allergy. And these same constituents bear most of the burden of allergy on a day-to-day basis.
Access to specialist allergy services
To a large extent the development of allergy services nationally depends on the commitment of the Ministry of Health and District Health Boards, the availability of appropriately qualified health professionals including clinicians, allergy nurse specialists and dietitians, and training for GPs. Over the past 12 months Allergy New Zealand has made an extensive submission on this issue to the Ministry of Health and participated in the Paediatric Society’s Allergy Special Interest Group. The organisation has worked with sponsors to provide training to GPs and other health professionals around the country, and participated in discussions with the NZ Clinical Immunology & Allergy Group (NZCIAG). Allergy New Zealand has also made a grant to support clinical immunology training for Paediatric Registrar Shannon Brothers in the UK.
At this time we are waiting for a response to our submission to the Ministry of Health, but are pleased at reports of plans for allergy services to be extended in a small number of DHBs around the country.
Socio-economic costs of allergy
Studies overseas have largely determined the scope of the burden of allergy. This includes the costs of health services and medications, which are generally shared between patients and the health sector; and the costs of specials foods and/or lifestyle adaptations, which are generally borne by allergy sufferers, their families and, to some extent, their communities.
Overall it is felt that allergy sufferers in New Zealand bear a higher proportion of the cost of allergy than in other westernised countries due to the lack of specialist services and funding for the EpiPen (adrenaline auto-injector) and special foods. In addressing these Allergy New Zealand has continued to campaign for the EpiPen to be funded by Pharmac; and made submissions to the Interdepartmental Group on Allergens (IGA) as well as the Ministry of Health. We have also met recently with a senior official from ACC to discuss issues in relation to claims and entitlements for people having severe and anaphylactic reactions.
Issues in relation to safe food for people living with food allergy reached prominence earlier this year with the death of an Auckland man from suspected food-triggered anaphylaxis in a restaurant. Allergy New Zealand has since worked with the Restaurant Association of New Zealand to provide information on the risk-management of food allergens, including presentations, and articles in publications and on the Restaurant Association’s website.
We had been working with the Ministry of Education on the development of guidelines for schools and early childhood services on supporting children and young people with health conditions. The Ministry’s guidelines were launched in December 2006, and provide a framework for our Allergy & Anaphylaxis Education Guidelines.
Given there are more than 3000 schools alone in New Zealand, it is beyond our capabilities to deliver training on the scale needed to ensure all education settings are safe for children with food allergy. Therefore we have focussed primarily on providing information, training and resources to public health nurses attached to the 21 DHBs around the country. As part of their community health role, public health nurses assist schools to develop overall health strategies as well as health plans for individual students. We have also provided information and resources direct to schools and early childhood services. Feedback has been very positive from parents and educators as well as health professionals.
Research is needed to underpin all of the work we do in tackling the key issues identified. Unfortunately New Zealand does not have the resources to develop research programmes compared to other countries where allergy is a major issue.
The major development for Allergy New Zealand is the commencement of a research project “The National Self-referred Food Allergy Register” which is being developed in partnership with the Auckland District Health Board. You can read about it in the National Conference section.
To download a copy of the 2007 Annual General Meeting report, click here.