Coronavirus dangerous, but not New Zealand’s biggest medical threat


Around the world 62 nations, including New Zealand have closed their border to Chinese visitors as a result of Coronavirus (COVID19). The closures, which in the coming weeks will be reviewed, have drawn much criticism from China, upset that its nationals are being denied entry into other countries.

Whilst I believe, given the lack of Chinese government transparency around COVID19, these are the correct measures to be taking, it should be noted that other medical threats around the world with a much lower profile cause significantly more deaths per annum. In other parts of the world COVID19, despite the reputation it is building, still does not come close to their biggest medical threats to human beings. In Africa, Asia and South America combined 100,000 people each year die from snake bite, from snakes that are far more prolific than COVID19 cases. They include the Lancehead in South America, the Russell Viper in Asia, the Saw Scale Viper in both Asia and Africa and Cobras of various types throughout both continents.

In New Zealand, snakes are obviously not an issue. And so, the major killer is actually respiratory illnesses caused by poorly insulated housing. 1600 people die during each winter from respiratory illnesses caused by mould, by excessive moisture content in the house, by simply not having enough insulation in the house. And this is not a new problem either, but rather one that has been quietly working away in the background known by authorities and the public all along, yet somehow despite the significant annual spike it causes in the deaths per month, not viewed seriously by the Ministers (and their Ministries)of Housing, Health and Social Development.

So, what to do about it? Attempts have been made to address our substandard housing insulation standards, the Government will tell you, but those attempts fit with what I call “the best we can” approach of New Zealand Governments, which read correctly actually means “the best we can be bothered doing”. In these cases, the case exists for higher quality regulations, but in order to avoid offending those industries a watered down version often gets released instead.

I have not been in many rental properties, but the ones I have been in, I noted significant mould around the shower from condensation that has not been allowed to escape. At home, prior to having double glazing installed, I noticed that if one uses a scraper attached to a scope which doubles as the handle, on very heavy condensation days the scope might collect nearly a litre of water. And people talk about how frequently they have to empty the dehumidifier tray of its contents.

But how much of this could we potentially prevent if we got really serious and required insulation to reach say R7.0 in new homes and R5.0 in everything else? I suspect the death toll would come down significantly.

But is New Zealand prepared to tackle this quiet, low profile agent of death that lives among us on a day to day basis in our colder months? Are we prepared to demand law changes that require these new standards, or is another potential New Zealand killer, the “she’ll be right” attitude that makes “the best we can be bothered doing” an acceptable outcome going to continue its equally dirty work aiding and abetting such outcomes.

The choice is yours New Zealand.

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