Govt ignored warnings over baby deaths

Saturday, 9. July 2016

More babies die each year from Sudden Unexpected Death in Infancy (SUDI) in New Zealand than anything else. Olivia Carville investigates why the Government has shelved a simple device that could save lives.

By Olivia Carville

Baby Ocean Pene died in her sleep, probably accidentally smothered by her sleeping parents.

She was not the first baby to die this way but child health experts say she could have been one of the last if authorities had listened.

Back in January 2008 in a white weatherboard house in Allen Bell Drive, Kaitaia, Ocean's parents awoke to find her cold and stiff in bed beside them.

Her fingers were clenched into tight little fists.

Every year, 50 Kiwi babies like Ocean die unexpectedly in their sleep, a rate that identifies New Zealand as the worst in the industrialised world for sudden infant deaths.

More than half of these babies are unintentionally suffocated by their parents while sleeping in the same bed.

A Weekend Herald investigation has found the Government has ignored a steady drumbeat of warnings and recommendations from coroners over the accidental suffocation of babies, stretching all the way back to Ocean's death more than eight years ago.

It has also found significant racial inequalities exist within these preventable deaths, with Maori babies eight times more likely to die.

Despite this hidden epidemic being called an "indictment on our society" by coroners, progress to prevent these deaths has been derailed by Government policy. Read more