Hon Tariana Turia, MP for Te Tai Hauauru
Tuesday 7 August 2012
I read an article this weekend in the Sunday Star Times highlighting the severe inequities in health outcomes for our tamariki. The news article was based on research that came out of Auckland University, and again raised what we have known for a long time, and that is that Maori children have poorer health outcomes that non-Maori.
I was terribly saddened to read that our kids are twice as likely to die from treatable illnesses, and 30 times more likely to be admitted to hospital. It is also shocking to think that if we closed the gap between Maori and non-Maori health statistics, there would be 3075 less hospital admissions every year. This is a significant number and every one of us must take responsibility to support achieving this goal.
One of the things which really upsets me is that when data such as this comes to light, the first thing that people do is jump to blame. Many people look first to lay blame on the whanau, which is not helpful, often misplaced and can possibly lead to further entrenching the disparities in health.
When I read this article the first question that comes to mind for me is this - why is there such a significant difference amongst culture/ethnic groups? We can be as scathing as we like, but when you have over 3000 Maori children being needlessly hospitalised every year I prefer to call it as I see it. And I see it as institutionalised racism.
I know that I am not the first to point this out, it was around 24 years ago that Puao Te Ata Tu, a wide reaching report on Maori into social development, highlighted this same issue. This issue has been before us for a long time, it is unfortunate however, that we have yet to see meaningful change to address these disparities.
One of the most disappointing things I have encountered in my time working in the health sector is the low targets set by many DHB's for addressing Maori health outcomes. Many of them set their targets for Maori health much lower than the national average. Why? Because they aim for what is achievable, not what is right - and that is something that we must address if we are going to change the system to deliver better outcomes for our tamariki.
There is a well-known Maori saying "whaia te iti kahurangi, ki te tuohu koe, me he maunga teitei" - aim for the heavens, if you must bow down, let it only be to a lofty mountain. This is the approach that we must take in health if we are going to make a meaningful impact on closing the equity gap.
There are many examples of how these systemic issues ultimately result in barriers for our whanau accessing quality health care. Some issues affect us all, such as long wait times to see a GP, lack of information on how to make good decisions - although some are purely cultural, based on our values and how we relate to others and the world around us.
Every day I hear examples of how our people are made to feel stink, or embarrassed, angry, or forgotten through various experiences they have had with the doctor, or with schools or through a wide and varying range of basic services of necessity.
We must turn this around. We cannot go on delivering the same services and expecting a different outcome for our children. We must make changes, and sometimes that starts with Governments, and sometimes it starts with a single voice speaking up when they witness something unjust, or within a whanau who help advocate and navigate each other through an unfriendly system.
One of the things which the Maori Party are working on is a Private Members Bill to address the issue of institutional racism, of course there is also the daily challenge that we lay down in parliament and in government to always be mindful of the impacts of legislation and policy on tangata whenua, and particularly on whanau.We all have our role to play in making change happen - the most important thing is that we are empowered to know that we can make a difference.