Cure Kids Ambassadors Mela, Addison, Eva, Lucca, Isla, Jeremy and Ben. Photo / Supplied.
Charity funds are battling ‘surprising’ disease rates among Kiwi children.
New Zealand has many “enthusiastic, talented and visionary” experts studying children’s health issues, but the field is dangerously underfunded, according to a leading pediatric geneticist.
“Brilliant ideas keep coming, but we face a child health emergency and there is an urgent need to increase our investment in research,” says Professor Stephen Robertson of the University of Otago.
He says New Zealand spends proportionately less on health research than other countries of similar standard of living, a ‘deficit’ laid bare in a recent UNICEF report that ranks health and wellbeing Kiwi children ranked 38th out of 41 developed countries.
“We have, for example, surprising rates of respiratory disease in our children,” he says. “Kiwi children deserve to be healthy and the need for new research to enable scientific innovation and discoveries that can both prevent and cure disease is greater than ever.”
Robertson, who is also the Cure Kids Professorial Chair at Otago University in Dunedin and chair of the medical and scientific advisory board for the children’s health charity, was speaking as Cure Kids assesses record numbers of 41 research grant applications received under its latest innovation and discovery funding. round.
Cure Kids – the largest charitable funder dedicated to child health research in New Zealand – accepts applications from researchers and healthcare professionals each year for a share of a $1 million pool raised thanks to donations from generous Kiwis. Each year, approximately nine projects receive grants of up to $110,000 each.
Robertson says that while there’s a lot of talk about what’s being done to improve children’s health, “the investment (into it) doesn’t reflect that. Frankly, it’s time we walked on.”
In addition to respiratory diseases like asthma (it affects 110,000, or one in seven Kiwi children), he says rheumatic fever is also a big problem. “It’s supposed to be a disease only found in developing countries, but it continues to strike many of our young people.”
The Cure Kids Health Status Report released in June 2022 found that respiratory conditions are the leading cause of acute hospitalizations for Kiwi children, while admissions of children with rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease have remained high over the past 20 years, despite efforts to reduce them.
The burden is particularly heavy for Pasifika children, who were admitted to hospital with rheumatic fever 140 times more often than children of “European or other” ethnicities.
This year, Cure Kids received 41 grant applications, the most in a single year since the charity was founded in 1971. Robertson says the charity has an impressive track record of funding research leading to major medical discoveries that have saved, prolonged and improved life. of several thousand New Zealand children.
Some of these include Professor Ed Mitchell’s research throughout the 1990s into sudden and unexpected death in early childhood, which led to advice on safe sleeping environments. It has been used to prevent 200 deaths in New Zealand every year since – and many more around the world.
In 1978, Professor Bob Elliott (one of the founders of Cure Kids) achieved a major breakthrough in the treatment of cystic fibrosis when he developed a test that could easily and quickly screen all newborn babies and to allow treatment before irreversible scarring of the lungs occurs.
And in 2015, Professor Cameron Grant proved that vitamin D supplementation during pregnancy and infancy prevents doctor visits for acute respiratory infections in infancy.
Robertson says the advisory committee will meet to assess applications in early December. Its recommendations will be forwarded to the Cure Kids board the next day and successful applicants will be notified before Christmas.
Composed of 10 experienced academics and healthcare professionals, the committee evaluates all proposals and selects those with the greatest potential for impact and that demonstrate scientific excellence.
It is also looking for the best research team, the best science – and the ability of proposals to achieve the Mātauranga Vision (research on the health and well-being of Maori children and incorporating Maori collaborators, language, skills, knowledge and practices).
A shortlist (approximately half of those submitted) is sent to at least three independent experts, either in New Zealand or overseas. This scientific “peer review” process means that each application is evaluated by several subject matter experts, all of whom volunteer their time, knowledge and experience.
All shortlisted applications are reassessed by the committee, including feedback from independent reviews, before it recommends projects for funding.
Frances Benge, CEO of Cure Kids, said the Innovation and Discovery Round is open to all researchers and healthcare professionals across New Zealand. She says the selection process ensures that every donor dollar is invested wisely.
“Because the New Zealand government spends proportionately less on health research than other countries (such as Australia, Canada, Sweden and the United States), Cure Kids is working hard to meet the funding need” , she says.
“Cure Kids counts on the continued support of New Zealanders to continue supporting future research projects that have the potential to make a real difference to children’s lives in the long term. Without this vital research, these big breakthroughs will not happen. not.”
To donate to Cure Kids, go to: curekids.org.nz
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