There are few subjects in New Zealand that provide less stable footing for reasoned debate than Maori healthcare.
About the only thing that people can agree on is that the health statistics for Maori are appalling, and even worse when compared with those for non-Maori. The facts are simple, brutal: Maori tend to die younger, are more likely to suffer illness and disease, and are less likely to seek help or access medical care (the two are different) when such ailments are treatable and their outcomes could be more positive. Which is why Maori are also more likely to end up in hospital when it's too late to make a real difference.
The reasons for that ill-health are also hard to dispute: Maori make up a fair slice of our most vulnerable population and are most likely to live below the poverty line (however you measure it), which means they are more likely to live in cold, sub-standard houses, eat poorly and find themselves reflected in all the very worst statistics.
But that's about all anybody can agree on. The great mystery remains as to why Maori, who, it seems, are targeted relentlessly by health officials over smoking, cancer and other ailments, should continue to find themselves being buried by the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff.
It's easy to find the Ministry of Health official who, backed by a myriad reports and initiatives, claims they are doing everything to reverse those terrible stats; and the Maori advocate who blames the Crown for not doing enough. But it appears that both sides are right and wrong, and the real losers are the sick and dying people caught in the cross-fire of blame and political point-scoring; the people both sides purport to support and defend.
The Crown appears to have spent an incredible amount of money on academic reports and consultants, some of them Maori, who have concluded that whanau are struggling to connect with their health providers.
However, despite those accepted, awful statistics and perceptions of 'special treatment' in the community, money directed towards Maori health specifically equates roughly to their percentage of the population.
That's despite their clear greater need when their health outcomes are compared with those of non-Maori.
That does not explain, however, why Maori are not using the health services available to them until it is potentially too late. And it is here that their own advocates can maybe shoulder part of the blame.
It's worth asking if all of the finger- pointing and vitriol directed towards the Crown may have created a deadly culture of mistrust. Maori are constantly told by their own leaders that the health system is not serving their needs and cannot be trusted. (In Taranaki, Government- appointed advocate Colleen Tuuta has openly questioned crucial health board initiatives.) So is it so surprising that Maori show a lack of faith in the health system?
- © Fairfax NZ News
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