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Child deaths falling -

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Child deaths falling

The World Today - Tuesday, 29 July , 2008 12:22:00

Reporter: David Mark

ELEANOR HALL: A decade long investigation has found that the number of children dying in New South
Wales has fallen by more than a third.

The New South Wales Commissioner for Children and Young People, Gillian Calvert, says the report is
good news, but that she still has concerns.

The report found that while the numbers had dropped, Aboriginal children and children from poorer
backgrounds were more likely to die than other groups.

And the Commissioner says she's worried that children are still drowning in backyard swimming pools
because of poor supervision and broken fences.

Gillian Calvert spoke to David Mark.

GILLIAN CALVERT: Yes I think we should feel very pleased about the progress that has been made and
I think that progress has been made through the efforts of parents, professionals and the community
working really to reduce child deaths. So I think it is a good news story.

DAVID MARK: And yet there are still around 600 children dying in NSW every year. If this was the
road toll, there would be a public outcry, why isn't there?

GILLIAN CALVERT: Well I think partly because a lot those deaths are in fact deaths that are from
natural causes if you like so it's about prematurity or it's about congenital malformation, so
these deaths really require advances in medical technology if we're to reduce them.

I think where we should have an outcry is in those deaths that are preventable that we're not and
here I'm thinking about the deaths from swimming pool drownings. What we found was that there was
no change over the 10 year period from deaths in swimming pool drownings. And when we looked at
those deaths, what we found was it was a combination of poor supervision by the adults around that
child and also because there were problems with the fencing or the gate latch where the barrier was
poorly maintained.

Now these deaths are preventable if we maintain the gates and I think we can probably get them
right down, so we are recommending that the government strengthen the legislation so that it
becomes a requirement to inspect pool fencing and also to regularly monitor that pool fencing.

DAVID MARK: You also found that the chances of dying are far greater for children from poorer
economic backgrounds and Aboriginal children. Can you quantify that ?

GILLIAN CALVERT: It varies according to the because of death that we're talking about, but overall
when you look at deaths across the 10 year period, as the socio-economic status of the family
worsened then the death rate increased.

Now that's in fact been known for some time and this study reinforces that finding. We also found
that Aboriginal people had higher death rates as well and one particularly concerning statistic for
us was that those deaths are by sudden unexpected deaths of infants was six times higher for
Aboriginal infants than for non-Aboriginal infants.

Now we do know that smoking levels are much higher amongst Aboriginal people than non-Aboriginal
people and we also know there are some economic and educational differences as well between those
two groups of people.

So that may have something to do with it, but I do think it is worthwhile perhaps focusing our
prevention efforts or our research efforts on trying to understand these sorts of things more.

DAVID MARK: Now you've also found that Aboriginal people and people from a poorer economic
background are more likely to die from meningococcal and pneumonia. Now these would both appear to
be preventable diseases, why are these deaths so disproportionate in those groups.

GILLIAN CALVERT: Well they're not entirely preventable, we don't for example have a... immunisation
for infants which is where a lot of the meningococcal deaths occurred. So that's something that I
know the scientific community is working very hard to develop. But what we found was that even when
you looked at infants, there were differences between those who were in the poorer areas and those
who were in the more well-off areas.

Now that needs some exploration and understanding. Why is it that children in poor areas are dying
at greater rates for meningococcal and phenomena compared to children in better-off areas?

And so what we're saying is the health department really needs to try and understand that and to
focus its prevention efforts towards reducing that inequity between the well off areas and the
poorer areas.

ELEANOR HALL: Gillian Calvert is the New South Wales Commissioner for Children and Young People,
she was speaking to David Mark.