6 Facts from the First Study in 40 Years

  • Pacific people have the highest prevalence of lupus SLE than any other ethnic group in New Zealand.
  • Māori and Asian people also had around twice the incidence and prevalence of Europeans/others.
  • The incidence of juvenile SLE (or SLE in children) is higher amongst Māori Tamariki compared with European children.
  • Most SLE patients are women which may be attributed to differences in the metabolism of sex hormones.
  • The cause of SLE is unknown, but it is believed to result from a complex interaction between genetics, environmental exposures and hormones.

    This study examines the differences between ethnic groups using the national administrative datasets. Knowing the incidence and prevalence of lupus SLE in New Zealand is extremely important as it enables health services to understand the changing needs of lupus management and treatment. 

    SLE is the most common type of lupus, with about 70% of the lupus cases being systemic, or having the potential to affect a person’s entire body. Lupus SLE affects millions of people worldwide. Pacific people had the highest incidence and prevalence of lupus SLE, with four times the incidence rate and three times the prevalence rate higher than Europeans/others. Māori and Asian people also had around twice the incidence and prevalence compared to Europeans and other ethnic groups.

    During the timeframe of the data, most lupus SLE cases diagnosed were between the ages of 15 and 45 years. In New Zealand, the incidence of juvenile SLE is higher in Māori compared with European children, and Māori children are more likely to be diagnosed with lupus nephritis, which can severely affect kidney function.

    The datasets also reveal that most lupus SLE patients are women. This may be attributed to differences in the metabolism of sex hormones and other gender-related activity in the body.

    It was also found that during the childbearing age, the ratio of females to males is nine to one, with a lower ratio seen before puberty and later in life.

    The cause of SLE is unknown, but it is believed to result from a complex interaction between genetics, environmental exposures and hormones. In New Zealand, Pacific people die younger, and have higher rates of chronic diseases than other New Zealanders. Social and economic factors are known to contribute significantly to Pacific peoples’ relatively poorer health status. Over half of Māori and Pacific lupus SLE patients were living in the most deprived areas compared to Asian and European/others.

    Additionally, Dr Lao presented these findings in August 2023 at the New Zealand Rheumatology Association Annual Scientific Meeting in Queenstown. Her contribution was very well received, leading to her being awarded the “Best Presentation on Lupus” at the Awards Dinner.

    Dr Chunhuan Lao

    Dr Lao’s Next Steps

    The next phase of Dr Lao’s work will see her prepare an article on the treatment of end-stage kidney disease amongst lupus SLE patients and this will be submitted the international Journal of Renal Care. She will also undertake an analysis of treatments for lupus SLE patients, with a specific focus on differences by ethnicity, gender and age group.

    The Arthritis NZ Lupus/SLE Postdoctoral Fellowship is funded by an extremely generous bequest by the late Dorothy Ashbolt. The purpose of the Fellowship is to provide significant financial support to emerging researchers in New Zealand to undertake research to advance knowledge and address important gaps in the lupus/SLE research field.

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