Cancer rates 'institutionalised racism'

NICOLA BRENNAN-TUPARA
Last updated 05:00 19/04/2012

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Your chances of surviving cancer are improving – unless you are poor or Maori.

A new Otago University/Health Ministry report shows that, while survival rates for cancer are improving nationally – 32 per cent from 1991 to 2004 – the mortality rate for Maori is 29 per cent higher than that of non-Maori.

Inequalities in survival were also seen between different income levels.

People diagnosed with cancer in the lowest third of household incomes had on average a 12 per cent higher death rate than people on high incomes.

The report has outraged Toi Ora primary health organisation (PHO) chief executive Tureiti Moxon, who said such a wide gap was "simply unacceptable" in a country such as New Zealand.

Toi Ora PHO provides services for Maori in Hamilton, Te Kuiti, Taumarunui, Raglan, Ngaruawahia and Huntly.

Mrs Moxon said the results were a sad indictment on New Zealand's health system.

"There's definitely something wrong in our system which we need to face up to," she said.

"Access to health is still a barrier. The cost of going to see a doctor is still too high for anyone on a benefit. So, as much as the sector is changing, for the so-called betterment of everybody, the truth is there is still institutional racism."

Paying to see a doctor was not a high priority for people struggling to feed their families and, when they finally did go, they were made to feel like "naughty children" for waiting so long.

"So they hesitate to go through that again."

However, Midland Cancer Network manager Jan Smith said initiatives were happening in the region to help reduce the gap. One of those was improving breast-screening access and focusing on anti-smoking campaigns for Maori.

She said they did not have comparative data to show the survival rate in Waikato alone but the work they were doing aimed to improve survival.

Mrs Smith said those working in the sector would welcome the report, which investigated the survival over 21 different cancers for people diagnosed from 1991 to 2004.

That data was then linked to census data, allowing accurate analyses for the first time of trends by ethnicity and household income.

"The good news is that averaged across all cancers, the death rate among those diagnosed with cancer reduced by 26 per cent every decade," Professor Tony Blakely said.

"This is a success story, and a tribute to our improving health services."

Cancers to show strong survival improvement included breast (52 per cent decreased death rate), leukaemia (60 per cent) and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (44 per cent).

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But Prof Blakely admitted improving the survival rate among Maori remained a huge issue that needed addressing.

- Waikato Times

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