A new study shows the number of children being admitted to hospital with serious skin infections has almost doubled since 1990.
The Otago University research suggests more than 100 children a week are receiving hospital treatment for cuts or bites which have been infected, or other conditions like school sores or cellulitis, and a third of them require surgery.
The study's co-author, Associate Professor Michael Baker, says the infections are very distressing for children and are preventable.
He says the increase is across the whole country, but it is concentrated in the North Island and the rates are around four to five times higher for children living in poorer neighbourhoods.
Associate Professor Baker says a national programme should be put in place to address the problem.
And the Public Health Association wants the Government to reinstate the reduction of avoidable hospital admissions as a health target, particularly for children.
It says successive Governments have failed to make children a priority and a national health target would encourage action by district health boards.
The Ministry of Health says the evidence suggests the primary causes of the infections lie outside the health system.
The Ministry says it has begun working with other Ministries to improve hygiene in schools and to improve housing conditions for families in poorer areas.