Child immunisation is free and actively encouraged for diphtheria, hepatitis B, HIB, measles, mumps, poliomyelitis, rubella, tetanus and whooping cough.
Public health nurses visit primary schools to conduct regular hearing and eye tests. A national non-profit organisation, The Royal New Zealand Plunket Society (PO Box 5474, Wellington, Tel. 04-471 0177, www.plunket.org.nz), also provides free check-ups for children, advice, information and support. Plunket, which is run by professionals and volunteers and aims to provide New Zealand children with access to the best healthcare, fills any gaps in the state child healthcare system. It also works closely with Maori and ethnic groups.
New Zealand’s leading children’s hospital (with a similar status to London’s famous Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital) is Auckland’s Starship Children’s Hospital (Tel. www.starship.org.nz), which caused an outcry among doctors and dieticians for allowing McDonald’s to open a fast food outlet in the foyer (although it went down well with the kids)! The McDonald’s closed in February 2005, by which time some nutritionists were guardedly in favour of its new menu’s fruits and salads.
New Zealand has a tradition of promoting access to the great outdoors for children and there are ‘health camps’ throughout the country for children under 13 with special needs, who can attend for up to six weeks. Children are referred to the camps by doctors, social workers and teachers, and they undertake a programme of remedial education, health education, sports and games, in addition to learning ‘life skills’.
Camps also have psychologists who counsel children with behavioural problems. Health camps are largely financed by special ‘health postage stamps’ issued by NZ Post in the spring, from which a donation is made to help fund camps. Health authorities also operate various health education and development programmes for children, including a recent screening programme for Auckland teenagers to try to minimise heart disease.