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Cancer Screening Failing Maori Women

16 June 2006

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Cancer Screening Failing Maori Women

The National Council of Women of New Zealand (NCWNZ) believes that socio-economic influences are as much to blame for Maori women slipping through the Cervical Screening Programme as are cultural differences. The Cancer Control Strategy acknowledges the correlation between socio-economic conditions and health outcomes; however, in practice the significance of socio-economics is too often understated.

"This is particularly the case for rural Maori women, who are in precarious work, such as seasonal fruit picking, and have limited resources available to them to actively engage in the National Screening Programme," said Christine Low, National President NCWNZ. "Seasonal employment can increase the mobility of women, making it difficult to contact them when their appointments are due. But other socio-economic difficulties compound the problem, such as lack of a telephone and access to transport, childcare, and information. All of this leads to Maori women having to wait longer for treatment of cervical cancer."

According to the Cancer Control Strategy, removing the inequalities and improving health outcomes for Maori is a key priority. Latest statistics published in the report, Unequal Impact: Maori and non-Maori Cancer Statistics 1996 to 2001, indicate that Maori women have a 25% percentage higher incidence of cancer rates, double that of non-Maori women.

"The lack of Maori providers contracted to the National Screening Unit at a regional level is a gap in the current system. To date, Maori providers appear to have been only contracted in the main centres, which have a larger population of Maori than the rural areas. However, in areas such as Northland, and the Bay of Plenty the percentage of the regional population that is Maori is very high," said Low. "This justifies the engagement of Maori providers to overcome the cultural issues, such as mistrust in the system, lack of understanding and confidence and communication barriers."

"DHBs lack a standardised approach, and arguably, it is not their brief to resolve this situation. Central Government needs to take responsibility to ensure more resources are allocated to the regions. This will require the Ministry of Health to demonstrate a political willingness to invest, even when the returns in statistical and economic terms will not be as high as perhaps they can achieve through focusing their efforts in the main centres. Women in rural communities, Maori and non-Maori, need this commitment otherwise the system will continue to fail them,” concluded Low.


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