More needs to be done to improve access to health services for Taranaki Maori, particularly at the primary health care level, the Public Health Association annual conference heard yesterday.
A Whanau Ora Health Needs Assessment - done on behalf of the Taranaki District Health Board - was discussed at the conference, held at New Plymouth's Devon Hotel.
"There are substantial ethnic inequalities in health between Maori and non-Maori living in Taranaki, as measured by life expectancy, avoidable mortality, and self-reported health status," health researcher Dr Mihi Ratima said.
"Key areas for action include continuing to strengthen the capacity and capability of Maori health providers and the Maori health workforce, and further work to address priority health conditions - diabetes, cardiovascular disease, lung cancer, breast cancer, respiratory disease, oral health, mental health and disability."
The keynote speakers for the conference's morning session were lawyers Moana Jackson and Annette Sykes.
People who were dispossessed lost faith, their spirit became damaged, then they became unwell, Mr Jackson said.
Maori needed to assert their right to be themselves and determine their own destiny.
"If we can't be who we are and can't determine our own destiny then we cannot be well."
Mr Jackson told a story about his great-mokopuna, who is nearly four years old. She called Te Papa an "imagination place".
What could be helpful for the conference is to look at issues like treaty relationships and public health envisaging the "imagination place".
"What are we dreaming about and what do we hope to achieve?
"What do we imagine would make things better? What would make the whole land better and healthier."
Ms Sykes said for dreams to become a reality, people needed to take action. Major Maori health issues include diabetes, rheumatic fever and asthma. Housing and a good standard of living are critical for Maori health.
Maori were affected by smoking, poor diet and lack of access to the health care.
When there was systematic discrimination, she said, courage and commitment to social justice was needed.
"There are people who get fast-tracked through through the system and they ain't brown people. People are being privileged.
"Inequality is the root of ill health."
Maori sovereign status must be respected by management regimes of the New Zealand health system, she said.
"We need free access to health care.
"What we need to ask is, what kind of institution is needed to meet the needs of Maori?"
The Treaty of Waitangi needed to be embraced as a liberal force, she said.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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