Maggot-infested scalps and rotting teeth - medical impact of New Zealand's shocking child poverty problem revealed

Maggot-infest scalps and pre-schoolers with rotting teeth are among some of the conditions, Dr Jeff Brown has seen.
Maggot-infest scalps and pre-schoolers with rotting teeth are among some of the conditions, Dr Jeff Brown has seen. Photo credit: Getty

Three paediatricians have revealed the shocking health effects poverty is having on Kiwi kids.

The effects they have seen on the front line dealing with children were published in July's issue of The Specialist, by the Association of Salaried Medical Specialists.

Maggot-infested scalps and pre-schoolers with rotting teeth are among some conditions, Dr Jeff Brown from the Mid-Centre District Health Board has seen.

"I see coughing and wheezing kids from damp and cold houses. I see rotting teeth when I lift the lip of preschoolers, if they have not already had a full dental clearance of all their carried teeth," he said.

"I see matted hair on maggot-infested scalps needing general anaesthetics just to clean and shave."

He says he sees rheumatic fever and bronchiectasis, which he describes as 'third world' diseases from overcrowding.

The Child and Youth Mortality Review Committee says children and young people living in the most deprived areas are three times more likely to die in childhood or adolescence than those living in least deprived areas.

When surveyed, Dr Brown said he found half of the families of children admitted in winter live in a damp house.

Just under half of their homes were insulated, one third all slept in the same room for warmth, and three quarters could not afford to heat their home. 

"No matter how good I am as a paediatrician, no matter how good our nurses are, no matter how good the inpatient care in hospital can be, I am discharging three in every four kids back to cold and damp homes."

Another paediatrician, who remains anonymous, said there were a number of options to try combat poverty.

"In a developed country like New Zealand, we can make choices. Do we pursue economic growth and enable a small section of the community to accumulate wealth, or do we adopt a caring philosophy where government policy is aimed at improving the education, welfare and health of its poorest?

"We can't do both, 'trickle down' doesn't work. If we choose to act positively it will still take more than a generation to undo the damage done by the racial and economic inequality that we, as a society, have allowed to grow."

Newshub.