Maori men hit with prostate cancer care

MICHAEL FOX
Last updated 05:00 01/02/2014

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Maori men are dying at a greater rate of prostate cancer than their Pakeha counterparts because their GPs are less likely to refer them onto specialist treatment.

Maori MPs and a leading Maori health expert say the trend is a blatant example of racism in the health sector with Maori and non-Maori treated differently.

Figures show Maori men are 28 per cent less likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer and 52 per cent more likely to than die than non-Maori – in spite of going to see their GPs as often.

The survival rate of Maori men who were diagnosed at a later stage with the disease which affected 169 Maori men in 2010 and killed 46 of them is also significantly lower than non-Maori.

Dr Nina Scott, a member of the Government’s Prostate Cancer Taskforce, told Parliament’s Maori Affairs committee this week that blaming the disparity on a cultural reluctance to go to the doctor, or ‘‘victim blaming’’ was wrong.

‘‘The problem is not about Maori men or Maori men’s culture, the problem is the health system,’’ she said.

‘‘The particular example of racism is blaming the survival inequities between Maori and non-Maori as being a Maori cultural issue rather than an institutional systems issue.’’

A new study which was yet to be released showed that 80 per cent of cancer screening was initiated by GPs and that Maori men were half as likely to be screened, she said.

Mana leader Hone Harawira told the committee it was another example of Maori men being treated worse than non-Maori.

‘‘If a Maori guy and a Pakeha guy go to see a doctor, the facts say the doctor will give the Maori guy an aspirin and refer the Pakeha guy onto more specialist treatment.’’

Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia said the issue was widespread in the health system.

‘‘To be frank, if you look at all of the issues around cancer and heart disease there is the same sad story to be told and the time has come really for the health system to be made accountable to these people because it’s not fair on those families when they seek treatment to be denied that opportunity.’’

The inequity was the result of racism on behalf of GPs and specialists, she said.

‘‘Clearly they don’t think that they’re deserving of being treated equally the same as everybody else. If we’re going to talk about equity in this country and all people being equal then all people have the right to be treated equally when they’re sick…’’

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She wanted to see specialists and doctors undergo cultural competency training and to see people treated equally.

Dr Scott said prostate cancer was ‘‘the worst organised I have seen’’ and was ‘‘totally random’’ when it came to treatment.

There needed to be nationally standardised treatment for prostate cancer, as there was with breast cancer and the government’s new prostate cancer working group was working to address this.

There was no Maori representation on the group however and the Maori Affairs committee has written to the group to ask why.

A Ministry of Health spokesman said anecdotal evidence suggested Maori men often presented later to GPs and this could impact on the outcomes of their treatment. 

The ministry was investing $4.3 million to raise awareness of prostate cancer and in November had released new prostate cancer resources to encourage men to talk to GPs early about their prostate health.

The ministry was seeking Maori representation from frontline health workers for the prostate working group. 


- Fairfax Media

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