Children in the Nelson region are falling sick due to poor home conditions. Photo: File.

Damp homes making kids sick


Children living in deprived areas of Nelson are much more likely to be hospitalised from illnesses due to cold, damp and overcrowded homes, new data shows.

The analysis has sparked calls for greater focus on lifting standards of housing across the region.

On average, 20 children die and 30,000 are hospitalised every year from preventable, housing-related diseases like asthma, pneumonia and bronchiolitis, health statistics compiled by the New Zealand Herald show.

In Nelson, they show that poor areas that have high deprivation and low incomes and lots of rental housing, suffer the most – suburbs like Toi Toi, Tahunanui and Stoke. Respiratory conditions in particular – like bronchiolitis and asthma – are causing more hospitalisations each year.

“The reality is that we have people in housing in this city that is not insulat’ed, has condensation and damp,” says Nelson Marlborough Health’s chief medical officer and pediatrician Nick Baker.

“Really we need to do what we can to make these houses healthier,”

Toi Toi, which marks an 8 out of 10 on the deprivation scale, had almost 400 child hospitalisations due to poverty related illness since 2000.

However, it only has about 400 children living there, according to the 2013 census. Tahunanui, a 9 on the deprivation scale, has had 410 despite having only 400 children living in the area.

By comparison, the Tahunanui Hills, a 3 on the deprivation scale only had about 200 hospitalisations despite having about 400 children living there.

The area of Isel Park in Stoke has had almost 700 despite only having about 600 children living there, according to the 2013 census.

The deprivation index uses indicators representing seven categories of social deprivation: employment, income, crime, housing, health, education, and geographical access.

Nick Baker says overcrowding, cold homes and damp all hamper the immune system and can impede development in children. That is often combined with homes that have smokers in them.

“We need to keep our kids as healthy as possible.”

He says there is some good news in that 20 years ago the relationship between unhealthy homes and sick kids was not widely known.

“Now most people in street know this.”

However, he says the reality is do not have the resources help themselves.

Victory community nurse Rachel Thomas deals with that reality first hand.

She sees respiratory illnesses climbing in Toi Toi despite her best efforts to educate families.

“You only have to drive around our area and see the odd broken window. Why are people putting up with it. Especially if there are children in these homes with asthma.”

Rachel says if you feel like you are powerless and haven’t got the resources to move houses you learn to live with it.

“What I see is people who they are so life is so hard and chaotic they have just accepted substandard housing problems.”

She says a warrant of fitness of houses will go a long way. The Healthy Homes Guarantee Bill is making its way through Parliament and sets minimum heating and insulation standards for rental homes.

She understands that some tenants do not look after their properties but says “we have to put children and their health at the centre of the conversation”.