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Systemic racism to blame for Maori health inequality

Thursday 9 November 2018

Systemic racism is to blame for New Zealand’s glaring ethnic health inequalities, which lead to poorer health outcomes and lower life expectancy for Maori, says Dr Owen Sinclair, a Maori Paediatrician based at Waitakere Hospital whose research focuses on health inequalities in the country.

Dr Sinclair, who is speaking at the New Zealand Anaesthesia Annual Scientific Meeting in Auckland this week, will discuss why a European child born in the affluent North Shore will have a completely different life trajectory to a Maori child born into poverty in South Auckland “just a short motorway ride away.”

His talk will include the findings of his Master’s thesis which explored the reasons for lower childhood immunisation rates among Maori which have led to higher rates of childhood illnesses such as whooping cough.

“The rates of whooping cough are just one example of how systemic barriers and racism affect health outcomes,” says Dr Sinclair. “Maori in fact have significant inequalities in every measurable health outcome and every socioeconomic variable.”

“Maori are more likely to be poor, under-educated, in prison, to suffer from poor health, and to die younger than non-Maori.”

Dr Sinclair will present data to show that systemic barriers across sectors such as health, education and justice lead to different treatment for Maori and non-Maori, with devastating consequences for health.

“In New Zealand ethnic inequalities are entrenched. They’ve existed for over 150 years without change and are accepted as normal. For Maori, New Zealand has never been an egalitarian paradise, not even close.”

He says Maori are often blamed for these inequalities when what is needed is a commitment to address systemic barriers across New Zealand society, which create and maintain health disparities for Maori.

Also speaking at the session, Anaesthetist and Researcher Dr Doug Campbell from Auckland will talk about small studies in breast, colon, prostate, hip and heart surgery that show Maori are offered surgery less often, have bigger delays in treatment and experience worse outcomes after surgery.

Research on a large national database by Dr Campbell shows poorer outcomes for Maori and Polynesian patients across all surgery types. He believes database research can be one way to identify areas of most need to redress these health inequalities.

The NZ Anaesthesia Annual Scientific Meeting (ASM) is hosted jointly by the Australian and New Zealand College of Anaesthetists (ANZCA) and the New Zealand Society of Anaesthetists (NZSA).

One of Australasia's largest specialist medical colleges, ANZCA is responsible for the training, examination and specialist accreditation of anaesthetists and pain medicine specialists, and for the standards of clinical practice, in Australia and New Zealand.

The New Zealand Society of Anaesthetists (NZSA) represents and champions the professional interests of anaesthetists and the optimal care of their patients through advocacy, promoting education, and supporting anaesthesia networks throughout the country.


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