By Paul Purcell
Respiratory conditions are placing an increasingly bigger burden on New Zealand's health system, and economy, with such diseases now costing upwards of $5.5 billion annually.
Yet, despite the impact these largely preventable deaths have both economically and in terms of the human cost, New Zealand's response is "shameful" according to the head of the Asthma Foundation.
"Respiratory disease is affecting more New Zealanders each year, despite all the hard work from the health sector and improvements in medication over the past decade," John Wills said.
"The situation is worsening at an enormous socio-economic cost."
A New Zealand-first national strategy plan released today has been devised to co-ordinate a planned approach to help manage and better allocate resources to limiting its impact.
A sixth of all New Zealanders suffer from a respiratory illness, which is now the third leading cause of death behind cancer and heart disease, the report reveals.
The National Respiratory Strategy breaks down into five high-level goals, focusing people with respiratory conditions and their families; their environment; the health community; the health system and research and evaluation.
The strategy will be tracked with metrics annually.
Around 2700 people every year die from respiratory diseases while it also accounts for 69,000 hospitalisations with many households in lower socio-economic areas impacted over-represented.
Children, Maori and Pacific Islanders are particularly affected, leading to the report to focus on alleviating socio-inequality in order for more effective health treatments.
"With urgent action we can change these statistics," Mr Wills said.
"The tragic thing is, in most cases, respiratory disease is preventable."
Respiratory disease in New Zealand
Source: The Asthma Foundation