Rachel Smalley: Reducing infant death rate worth the money

Friday, 15. July 2016

A mother co-sleeping with her child (NZ Herald)


You may have heard about the Ministry of Health and it's refusal to fund a 'safe-sleeping' device for at-risk babies.

They're called pepi-pods - and they're essentially a small woven basket. What they do is allow babies to sleep in the same beds as their parents, without the risk of suffocation or sudden infant death syndrome.

The NZ Herald is reporting that 14 of our 20 DHBs have made some space in their budgets to provide pepi-pods to at-risk families and in particular they're targeting Maori families, who are more likely to co-sleep with their infants. But the Ministry is now withholding funding.


Well, the Health Minister Jonathan Coleman says he's taking an 'evidence-based approach' -- and he says a lack of scientific research is why the Ministry won't fund the pepi-pods.

That, I think, is a remarkable position to take in this country. We have the worst rate of sudden infant death in the Western world. On average, more than 50 babies die a year.

In it's defence, the Ministry says the studies referred to by the Herald that observed a fall in mortality rates when the safe-sleeping device was used, were studies that it believed were scientifically weak.

Instead, the government credits, in part, a home visiting programme put in place by the Ministry of Social Development. And so we go around in circles.

I would have thought funding for this programme was a given. It would cost around $1.5 million for a national roll out.

Small woven baskets given to at-risk families when they leave hospital. You're trying to protect the most vulnerable. Babies who are at-risk of dying.

In Australia, they're distributing pepi-pods to aboriginal families and they say they're saving lives.

And here, for the first time in 16 years, Maori infant mortality rates have begun to fall in areas with the most pepi-pods. "No evidence" says our Ministry for Health.

They cost around $100 -- each pepi-pod. That's an investment in our children, I would have thought. If the Ministry can't find the money to fund it - well, here's a suggestion.

The government says it's foregoing the $92 million dollar Housing New Zealand dividend to build more houses. Well, maybe we could shave off $1.5 million off that.

$1.5 million to reduce our horrifying and tragic rate of sudden infant death syndrome. Money well spent, surely.

Newstalk ZB Article