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Asthma and Respiratory Committee AGM - Speech

Hon Tariana Turia

Speech Notes
2pm, Saturday, 13 October 2001

Speech to the Asthma and Respiratory Committee AGM, West Plaza, Wellington


Thank you for inviting me to address your Asthma and Respiratory Committee AGM this morning.

Asthma and other respiratory illnesses affect a wide range of New Zealanders and are a big presence in the lives of hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders. Asthma is especially prevalent and affects around 1 in 6 New Zealanders and continues to kill around 130 New Zealanders each year.

Asthma is even more common in childhood and has been increasing in prevalence in recent years. An estimated 44 percent of New Zealand children experience asthma symptoms at some time before they are 15 years old.

Around 11,000 New Zealanders are hospitalised for asthma related conditions each year. The rate of hospitalisation is particularly high among our whanau, especially our tamariki. They are twice as likely to be hospitalised than other children.

Perhaps more importantly, such rates acknowledge that the health issues facing whanau, hapu and iwi, cannot simply be swept away with a simplistic socio-economic class explanation.

I would like to suggest, that much has to do with the control we have over our daily lives. How we feel about ourselves, how we view each other, and whether or not we have a dream or a vision.

I know that for all people, to lack a dream, to not have a vision inevitably leads to a loss of hope. It thus makes them more prone to having ill health.

If you are dispossessed and continually described in negative terms, are you likely to feel good about yourselves, are your children likely to all feel good about themselves.

A continual barrage of negative messages is not likely to do much for your own self-esteem. If your every move is criticised and if you are told that the reason you are in the situation you find yourself in, is entirely your fault, what do you think that does for your self-esteem.

If you are then told that you ought to find your own solution and you do come up with one and having done that, you are told that it is the wrong solution. What do you think that does for your self-esteem and confidence.

Your Foundation’s work to improve knowledge about asthma and the standard of asthma care is crucial for thousands of New Zealand families and helps in finding solutions that can be managed within families themselves.

For too long, indigenous people in Aotearoa have been criticised for not coming up with the solution and yet, when we do, we are criticised for that.

Last Saturday, for example, I suggested that a parallel system of justice could perhaps be considered as a mechanism, which could address the issues of child welfare. I am told that the talk back lines ran hot.

I was accused of being a separatist and yet what I was suggesting was little different to what occurs in New Zealand's Armed Forces, the New Zealand Police, the New Zealand Law Society, and the New Zealand Medical Association to name but a few.

It seems to me that what others can avail themselves of, indigenous people are severely criticised for merely suggesting that, we too, could have a similar system.

What I am suggesting, is that if people feel in control, if people feel they are a part of the solution, and if people feel a responsibility for the outcomes, they are more likely to be healthy. They are less likely, in my view, to suffer in this instance, from respiratory illnesses. And if they do, they are more likely to better manage their respiratory illnesses.

If you have greater control and management over your life, you are likely to suffer less from poverty. To have decent food, shelter and clothing and to be in an environment where you are both respected and loved, many of the respiratory illnesses are said to be illnesses of poverty.

As the poor are not responsible for the creation of poverty, perhaps we should consider who is and if we find that out, we may just stumble across a cure.

What part do the creators and maintainers of a system in which poverty exists, play in supporting the solutions of those families and communities who face poverty and are striving to find their way through.

The Labour Alliance government is demonstrating its commitment through it's reducing inequalities work across government departments. Leaders of business who promote and practice the triple bottom line in their activities also demonstrate this commitment. I acknowledge this momentum is building in New Zealand.

There are roles for others to play a part in this process if they so wish.

While this AGM is specifically about asthma and respiratory diseases, I believe the strategies and solutions we adopt to reverse the ever-increasing numbers of indigenous people that suffer from asthma, can be found as a result of us assuming control over our bodies and our lives.

By this I mean that we, members of whanau, hapu and iwi, must begin to believe that we can determine what is good for us. What our needs are, what our dreams are and how we can achieve them.

When I spoke to the World Diabetes Conference last year, I considered a statement made by the late Dr Erihapeti Rehu-Murchie, of Ngai Tahu descent.

Erihapeti said "Maori health is to a great extent a result of socio-economic and socio-cultural factors which have their roots in colonialism and the struggle to adapt to rapid change arising from post World War Two urbanisation. Until the grievances arising from failure to honour the Treaty of Waitangi are resolved Maori ill-health will remain a problem."

This statement acknowledges indigenous strategies, that often seek to focus on a strengths-based model, a model of wellness that takes into account the interconnectedness of all things.

On a per capita basis we are grossly over-represented as asthma sufferers. The challenge for us is to be clear on the solutions that we need to have implemented. To ensure that as much as we can control, we become asthma free.

We need to consider the extent to which our living conditions, our working environment and how we live life generally guarantees that:
a. We become victims of asthma, and
b. We create an environment which is asthma free

We need to analyse, in considering asthma, what it is in our environment that we can control. One simple part of the environment that we can control is to stop smoking. There are too many of our people that I know, who while they are asthmatics, continue to smoke cigarettes.

Asthma has such a strong negative influence on the health of our people that I hope we can be creative in finding long lasting solutions. We must ensure that succeeding generations do not suffer as those who suffer from asthma today. All of us here have a part to play.

I suffer from asthma and I have found that the most effective method has been – (discuss your personal experiences of what works well). I do still use ventolin, but I do use it much less frequently than I was, and only as a last resort these days. It does take discipline to continue with this type of therapy, unfortunately sometimes, I slip up.

Also 11 of my 23 grandchildren suffer from asthma. As a whanau, we are diligent about their asthma management and that their environment is always smokefree and most times stress free. It is unfortunate that we do not have any control over environmental pollutants.

At the Auahi Kore (Maori Smokerfree) Hui on Thursday, I listened to Ngati Porou tohunga, Amster Reedy, who talked about the smokefree deities, which share our whakapapa, and then I listened to Dr Pita Sharples, of Ngati Kahungunu, speak about smokefree being an act and a demonstration of tino rangatiratanga.

At that conference I spoke about our ability to develop solutions within our whanau, hapu and iwi and about the power of the mind. I believe that we must learn from our own histories, as they can provide us with the solutions we seek. The smokefree deities are one example of demonstrated leadership.

There is a belief of 'being capable of doing it', where you, your whanau, hapu and iwi are in control. There are the support systems in place that work.

There is the belief that in pre-European times our tupuna didn't suffer from this illness, that we, as their descendants are not destined to be sufferers of asthma.

There are non-chemical ways of attending to it. But if you need to take your medicine, then you must, and it must be taken properly.

There are other methods too, breathing techniques, many different forms of exercise such as swimming, to name a couple. One can continue to do the things that one enjoys, such as continue to play sport, to participate in other whanau and social activities.

Having asthma is merely a challenge to be faced, not as illness that becomes something that debilitates you.

Treatment of asthma can be improved if it focused on the treatment of the individual within the context of his or her whanau. Like anything that affects us we, the individual, are not the sole sufferers of the malady.

Consider if you will an asthma attack on a child. Who else is involved in applying treatment and giving comfort, it is the whanau. The treatment also becomes a whanau responsibility.

Children who suffer from asthma must be encouraged to sleep well, attend school and continue to play their sport. The three S's of sleep, school and sport to date, has not been as successful as it could, because the focus for treatment has been on the individual in isolation and not the whanau.

The Inaugural Asthma Achievers Awards awareness week was a great success. The 29 people around the country who received the inaugural awards demonstrated that the challenge can be faced and overcome.

I believe the recipients have ran marathons, completed PhDs, pursued demanding careers, climbed mountains, and worked tirelessly for their communities, and all are, of course, members of families, which brings its own challenges.

They represent New Zealanders and show asthma and respiratory conditions affect people of all ages, cultures and walks of life.

The awards also showed people living with asthma and respiratory conditions can live life to the full, and can inspire others, not just those with asthma, to set their sights on what they want to achieve.

Just as our whanau, hapu and iwi are determined to play their role in their own development in relation to health and what they want to achieve. This coalition government has committed itself to whanau, hapu and iwi development. It is this combined willingness that will allow dynamic, innovative and positive developments within the health sector.

Just this week I witnessed one such dynamic, innovative and positive development - the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding with the between mana whenua of Tamaki Makaurau and the Counties Manukau District Health Board.

Our whanau, hapu and iwi are employing the power of the mind and learning from our tupuna, from our unique histories, how the solutions not only address challenges such as asthma.

Our lives today are connected to those of our tupuna. We are learning that by understanding our histories, facing our challenges, and dreaming our dreams, that we can walk into the future knowing that we can achieve optimum health.

No reira, tena koutou, tena koutou, tena koutou katoa.


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