“I don’t know the cost to the health system when it comes to our alarming rates of melanoma,” says Megan Cummins, Managing Director of Fresco Shades. But I would’ve thought we as a society should be doing everything we can to prevent it – rather than being the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff.”
And this seems like an extremely valid point, considering recent research highlighted the fact that New Zealand has 6 times the global average rate of malignant skin melanoma (the death of 6.6 per 100,000 people). It is also a position Heather Knewstubb, a Health Promotion Advisor for the Cancer Society of New Zealand, agrees with.
“We all need to take the issue seriously. In 2013, 489 New Zealanders died from melanoma and other skin cancers – that was higher than the road toll.”
In particular, these statistics provide for a worrying look into our future, if there aren’t further changes in how we approach sun safety for the next generation, and we only need to look across the ditch to see what may be required.
“Both we and Australia have topped the skin cancer and melanoma stats for a while,” says Heather.
“It does appear, however, that Australia is starting to make some inroads into reducing their rates – something we are yet to see here. Australia has maintained a higher level of investment in skin cancer prevention programmes, including mass media, than we have, and they seem to be seeing results from that.”
Teaching ‘sunsmart’ behaviour to children is critical for helping to lower our rates of skin cancer and melanoma in years to come, but it must be understood that ‘slip, slop, slap and wrap’ will only go so far. They are important measures for protecting skin, however shade is a much-needed element that is often in demand and minimal in supply.
“One of the big challenges we hear from schools is the provision of shade, especially in the outdoor play areas,” says Heather, who helps run the SunSmart Schools programme in New Zealand that the Cancer Society funds.
”One of the big challenges we hear from schools is the provision of shade, especially in the outdoor play areasHeather KnewstubbCancer Society of New Zealand
“But with school budgets continually stretched, finding money to erect shade structures or plant trees is very difficult.
“We also hear from parents astounded by the lack of shade in local pools and playgrounds. It is great that these public facilities are provided, however the incorporation of appropriate shade needs to be part of, and costed into, the planning, upgrade and design process. This will ensure children and others are able to enjoy these open spaces whilst reducing the risk of skin damage.”
So the next step is obvious – central and local government need to be a part of the conversation, and solution, when it comes to addressing the issue of shade supply in schools and public recreation facilities. And the general public can be advocates to ensure their voices are heard – it’s certainly something Megan is passionate about.
“By not mandating shade at least in playgrounds, schools and preschools we are letting down future generations and adding costs to the public health system – something which is already struggling now,” says Megan.