Auckland recently hosted the New Zealand Superbugs Symposium to discuss bacterial disease threats and the holistic approaches that may be taken to combat them. The symposium was attended by 350 or so medical professionals.
The forum identified rheumatic fever, caused by streptococcus pyogenes, and anti-microbial resistant organisms, known as superbugs, as the two most threatening infectious diseases in the country. Data on the superbug epidemic was presented by epidemiologist Michael Baker, Associate Professor at the University of Otago: "Our research shows that [contrary to conventional wisdom] over the last 20 years the burden of infectious disease in New Zealand has increased significantly".
The number of hostpitalisations resulting from infectious disease rose by about 20,000 per year between 1989 and 2008, accounting for 26% of hospitalisations in 2008. Professor Baker also noted increasing demographic inequality in the hospitalisations, with Maori and Pacific populations facing twice the risk of hospitalisation than European or other ethnicities.
The solutions discussed ranged from low-tech, such as good hospital hygiene, to high-tech, such as new diagnostics, drugs and vaccines. The symposium saw collaboration between the medicinal and scientific community, and concluded with a call for national commitment to jointly tackle the two diseases through greater understanding of their prevalence, and development of better drugs and vaccines.