Cure Kids in 2018 – where we’ve come from and where we’re heading

While each year we celebrate great advancements in the child health research space here at Cure Kids, I have to admit this year has been rather exceptional.

It’s been a year of many firsts for us, so as we start the countdown to Christmas, I thought I’d take the opportunity to look at some highlights from the past 12 months.

2018 kicked off with Cure Kids making a funding commitment to channel more than $10 million towards 60 health research projects around New Zealand. Those projects are now well underway.

It makes me so proud to be part of a team that supports medical researchers who are leading the way with innovative, ground-breaking discoveries, solutions and support for young people affected by challenging medical conditions. After all, everyone deserves a healthy childhood.

It also warms my heart that we’re supporting parents-to-be with vital information to ensure their unborn children get the best start in life.

In May, we made an unprecedented funding collaboration with another charity, to fund a New Zealand-first translational research project.  Cure Kids and the Child Cancer Foundation Foundation jointly committed $1.25 million to the Precision Paediatric Cancer Project. This will allow children with difficult-to-treat and relapsed cancers to receive a new type of genetic testing and subsequently more targeted treatments here in New Zealand.

Then, in June, we launched ‘Sleep on Side; Stillbirth Prevention Campaign’, a public health campaign providing vital information to pregnant women to help reduce the number of stillborn babies during late stages of pregnancy. The campaign was developed in partnership with the University of Auckland and Ministry of Health, following new evidence that sleeping on the side from 28 weeks of pregnancy has the potential to save approximately 16 unborn babies a year in New Zealand, and up to 100,000 babies annually worldwide.

Cure Kids’ ongoing commitment to mental health was reinforced further this year with our announcement that we’re currently funding $2.2 million of mental health research that focuses on early intervention, education and support initiatives. As I’ve written about previously, mental health is a significant part of child health so if we don’t recognise problems early and intervene promptly, there can be detrimental outcomes and increased public health costs in the long term.

We held our annual appeal, Red Nose Day in September, which we’ve extended for the entire month due to the overwhelming number of schools, community groups and corporates wanting to get involved in a range of fun activities during the month. This year, the iconic fundraiser brought in close to $1 million which will go towards new child health research initiatives.

And while we’re doing everything we can to bring about positive change, we’re can’t ignore the heart-wrenching fact that many problems children face today derive from social deprivation. That’s why we’ve also chosen to support researchers working tirelessly to tackle poverty-related health problems.

Earlier this year, I addressed this big issue facing our nation – New Zealand has some of the highest living standards in the world but doesn’t do well when it comes to health and wellbeing of our tamariki.  Each year 40,000 Kiwi kids under the age of 14 are hospitalised for poverty-related health conditions. New Zealand has the highest obesity rate in children among OECD countries; 32% of children aged 2 -14 are considered obese. Adding to these harrowing statistics, respiratory illnesses are the fourth most common cause of death in New Zealand children.

A Cure Kids-funded researcher, Professor Cameron Grant identified the risk of being hospitalised as 4-5 times greater for children in deprived households and is investigating the benefits of giving vitamin D supplements to children under two who are hospitalised with an acute lower respiratory infection.

When it comes to childhood obesity, Professor Grant, is tackling that too. He’s analysing data from both the Growing up in New Zealand & Growing up in Australia studies to identify potential impacts of successfully modifying different factors to reduce child obesity.  Another researcher we fund, Professor Boyd Swinburn is studying four South Auckland schools to look at food and physical activity environments, the use of indigenous knowledge, and how influencers can make a difference.

Meanwhile, Dr Alison Leversha is working with lower decile schools in Counties Manukau to find better ways to treat ‘school sores’ (infected insect bites, cellulitis, eczema, abscesses and severe infections) in kids. Comparing topical antibiotic cream with alternatives such as basic wound care she aims to find a solution to a common problem affecting mainly Māori and Pacific children.

With every dollar donated, we’re one step closer to helping more talented and passionate researchers realise their dreams to make a positive impact on the health of children, not just in New Zealand, but around the world.

What’s struck me most this year is the generosity of New Zealanders – to those of you who have donated your time, money and efforts to support us, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Next year, is looking to be an even bigger one here at Cure Kids as we prepare to announce in January the next round of grants we’re allocating towards funding new medical research projects.

We’ve come a long way already, but there’s still so much work to be done and so many more kids to help so we won’t give up.

I wish you all a very happy festive season with your loved ones and I can’t wait to bring you more exciting developments in 2019.