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Pasifika Medical Association of New Zealand

8 September 2000 Speech Notes

Pasifika Medical Association of New Zealand

Pacific Greetings to you all.

I would like to especially greet Her Royal Highness, Princess Pilolevu Tuita and the Hon Tamasese Efi.

Thank you for inviting me to speak this morning. I am delighted to be here as your guest and am honoured to have the privilege of opening the 3rd Annual Conference of the Pasifika Medical Association of New Zealand. I am pleased the Ministry of Health has been able to support this conference with a financial contribution.

It is immensely valuable for me not only to talk to you, but to have the chance to listen to your experiences, concerns and insights.

I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate the Pasifika Medical Association of New Zealand, for its efforts in organising this conference, and also for its contribution to protecting and promoting the health of Pacific peoples.

It would be remiss of me to address this auspicious audience without taking a moment to address the work of Dr Colin Tukuitonga, Dr Leo Foliaki and Dr Semisi Mai’ai, who have been instrumental in the development of Pacific health initiatives in New Zealand. I applaud your commitment to nurturing the health and wellbeing of Pacific communities through rigorous academic research, advocacy and health promotion.

I would also to pay tribute to the support the English family has given the association. I understand my Parliamentary colleague Bill English is speaking to you this evening, and his wife Dr Mary English is a stalwart of the association.

It is also my pleasure to be able to acknowledge the significant contributions of many professionals, communities and families to the development of Pacific health services within New Zealand. Your commitment, dedication and passion are hugely important.

I would like to reassure you that the Government has made Pacific health a priority.

As part of the new structure, a Pacific Health branch has been formed at the Ministry of Health. This is the first time in public sector history that a strategic policy unit focusing on Pacific health issues has been established. A key aspect of ensuring that the Ministry’s policy advice is robust, as well as holding the Ministry accountable for improving Pacific health, has been the establishment of the Pacific Sector Reference Group, in which a number of you are involved.

This week I was able to meet the new people we have appointed to the Hospital and Health Services boards in the lead-up to District Health Boards. There are eight Pacific directors, up from one in the past. The eight are formidable Pacific leaders ready to do the work ahead.

I know a significant amount of work has been completed to identify what is needed to improve the health of Pacific communities. This Government is not into "change for change’s sake." We acknowledge there have been positive developments in health in recent years, and we want to build on these gains, not lose them.

If we address these issues successfully, we can expect a brighter future for Pacific peoples. However, if they are not addressed successfully, then it is highly likely the health gap between non-Pacific and Pacific people will continue to widen.

Many of you will already know the broad outline of the way we plan to improve the health of New Zealand people. We want to reduce the health disparities that exist between different groups in our society, and meet the needs of local communities, through increasing community involvement in decision-making.

The New Zealand Health Strategy will provide a framework and overview within which the health sector will develop. In its final form, the Strategy will show the way forward for the sector. Improving the health of Pacific peoples is a key goal and improving service delivery for Pacific peoples is a priority.

The New Zealand Health Strategy specifies a number of goals and targets which could potentially improve the health status of Pacific people considerably. It outlines plans to:

 Strengthen primary health initiatives for Pacific peoples
 Improve the health of Pacific children
 Improve mental health services for Pacific peoples
 Enhance screening programmes to improve the health of Pacific peoples
 And increase the number of Pacific peoples in the health workforce.

The leading contributors to the poor health status of Pacific peoples in New Zealand include cardiovascular disease, diabetes, injuries, respiratory diseases, cancers and infectious diseases. Much of the morbidity and mortality can be prevented, however.

We want to support services responsive to Pacific communities by building upon community strengths, proven strategies for early engagement in health promotion, health prevention programmes and Pacific health workforce development strategies.

A key step in developing the strategy was the publication of a discussion document. The discussion document set out some goals and objectives for the health sector to work towards as a whole. I would like to take this opportunity to thank those of you here who may have submitted your views and comments on the proposals outlined in this document. We were very pleased to receive more than 600 written and oral submissions.

The Ministry is currently analysing those submissions. Once this work is completed, an amended version of the strategy will be finalised and should be released later this year.

However, the final strategy will by no means be a static document. It will be living and flexible and reflect the needs of our diverse population.

I am aware that for Pacific peoples conventional delivery of health services do not adequately meet their needs. This is very apparent in primary health care.

We need to make sure that Pacific modes of care are recognised and supported. We need to improve the links between primary and secondary care, minimise the fragmentation of these services and address economic, language and cultural differences.

The Government also recognises a need to train more Pacific peoples in the health workforce. We know service provision ‘by Pacific for Pacific’ works. Pacific providers and communities should, and will, be consulted on aspects of care delivery which are important to Pacific peoples. They should also be given the opportunity to develop, manage and provide health care for their communities.

I understand that the complexity of illness faced by many Pacific peoples needs to be recognised. It is important that the funding of Pacific health services not only recognises the complexities of Pacific health, but that the funding allocation allows Pacific peoples to develop solutions to these problems creatively.

I am very aware that Pacific health initiatives to date have grown and developed on their own, through the leadership of committed Pacific people. What the Government would like to do is build on these developments.

Another issue you may be aware of is that the Ministry of Health is in the early stages of facilitating the development a Pacific Health Strategy. The Pacific Health Strategy is part of the second phase in the development of the New Zealand Health Strategy. It will reinforce the broader health sector action required for improving the health of Pacific peoples, such as Pacific provider and workforce development and mainstream providers’ responsiveness to the health needs of Pacific peoples.

The strategy will be developed with meaningful input from Pacific providers and communities. The Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Pacific Island Affairs will be at the forefront of managing this process, as well as your sector reference group.

I am aware there may be scepticism because this approach has been tried before. But for the first time a costed implementation plan will be developed and endorsed by the cabinet. This implementation plan will become the guiding tool for district health boards when they consider Pacific health issues.

The Government is committed to closing the gaps, and has allocated $1.35 million to meet immediate Pacific Provider Development needs. A funding plan for this was developed in joint consultation by the Ministry of Health and the Health Funding Authority, with the Ministry of Pacific Island Affairs, Dr Colin Tukuitonga and the national Pacific Health Reference Group.

The details have now been worked out, and providers will be notified of them within the next week. I understand some money has already been allocated.

An additional $5 million has also been identified for ongoing Pacific Provider Development from 2000/01. Although funding decisions on how this money will be allocated are yet to determined, I can assure you there will be consultation with Pacific providers and the national Pacific Health Reference Group.

We will have to work hard to reduce health disparities in this country. The Government’s priority, indeed our basic responsibility, must be to close these gaps.

The Government recognises that the determinants of health are both wide-ranging and entwined. It seems impractical and unrealistic to focus upon health as a sector, without recognising the impact and importance of other areas such as education, welfare and housing. Recent research on the incidence of meningococcal disease and its links with household crowding is an example of this. I know that Pacific providers are inevitably involved in activities outside traditional health boundaries - often making themselves available to their communities 24 hours a day.

I wish the Pasifika Medical Association success in its mission to improve Pacific peoples’ health. I would also like to thank the Association for the valuable advice and support you provide to Ministry of Health staff.

I would also like to take this opportunity to thank the conference participants for their dedication to Pacific health. The Government may define the policy, but it is you that make the health strategies real.

I recognise the Pacific health sector is coming into its own. I would like to reassure you this Government and the Ministry of Health has heard the call of Pacific people in recent months and are working to tackle the issues.

Our goal is one of partnerships, both inside the Government, between government agencies, and outside the Government, with organisations such as yourselves. Such partnerships are vital if we are to develop successful services and policy. Together, I am confident we can meet the challenges of the new millennium.


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