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Thousands turn to rongoā Māori for treatment of their injuries

Ashleigh McCaull

There's been a massive growth in people choosing to use traditional Māori healing practices as part of their rehabilitation through the Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC).

ACC research shows Māori are two and a half times more likely to sustain a serious injury than non-Māori.

ACC's head of Māori health partnerships Eldon Paea said its data showed since June 2020 it went from only one client for rongoā Māori to about 9000.

"We have a focus on wanting to improve health services, our data is showing that we need to do something different. Māori are 35 percent less likely to make a claim but when they do make a claim they're less likely to access the very services that they're entitled to.

"Māori are about 17 percent of the population but when we look at new claims, they only make up 12.5 percent... There's a whole list of barriers but some of the key ones are access to services, especially in rural communities... There were no culturally aligned or tikanga-based options in their portfolio of care and also previous experiences where they just felt put off," Paea said.

ACC said rongoā Māori was accessed in claims prior to June 2020 but there was lack of clarity over where it sat within ACC's frameworks which led to inconsistent approvals.

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Around 59 percent of people using the services are Māori while the other 41 percent are non-Māori.

Rongoā Māori claims have almost doubled in the last year with over 6000 using it by the end of January 2024.

He said he was not surprised at the high intake from non-Māori.

"We knew that it was going to be popular. I think the challenge was actually getting it started. It's always had a holistic perspective in healing.

"I think a lot of mainstream services just focus on the injury itself and don't take into consideration how people's mindsets are during the injury, the impacts it has on family and also their spiritual connections," Paea said.

He hoped the positive reaction and uptake of rongoā Māori would help improve the statistics.

The huge increase in popularity comes as a sold out rongoā Māori conference is set to take place in Rotorua from Wednesday.

Around 450 people are expected to attend and they will include a mix of health providers, clinicians and practitioners.

"It's a unique space, first of its kind, 18 months in the making. Its ability to be able to bring together our health providers and clinicians with rongoā practitioners under one roof, to build relationships and to collaborate and to gain an understanding of indigenous health.

"I believe we are leading the way when we look at other indigenous countries and the hopes and dreams to have indigenous health care recognised in their own health system," Paea said.

He said rongoā Māori has been most popular for the treatment of injuries including sprains, strains and contusion type injuries.

"Twenty-nine percent of all rongoā claims have been for sensitive claims and those are your survivors of sexual violence and that's where Māori are highly populated. They make up about 34 percent of sensitive claims and it's a service that they choose as part of their portfolio of care," Paea said.

Last week the Public Service Association announced it feared Māori health would worsen after a huge overhaul proposed to slash ACC specialist Māori roles.

The proposed job cuts include a Māori injury prevention specialist team, which also works in preventing sexual violence, being halved from 10 to five.

TV presenter a huge fan

Former Newshub presenter Oriini Kaipara used rongoā when she suffered a head injury.

Last year she fell and knocked her head on concrete causing two deep cuts and was rushed to Accident and Emergency where she waited almost four hours before getting confirmation she had a concussion.

After working for a month her symptoms got worse until she went to her aunty, who is a rongoā healer and ACC approved.

Despite spending weeks with a specialist, it was not until she saw her aunty she felt like she finally started the recovery process.

"I wasn't prescribed anything; I was told if it gets worse come back to the hospital, if it doesn't, carry on, that's the western approach."

She said her aunty gave her a mirimiri and placed kawakawa leaves on her head to help draw out the mamae (pain).

"Not even a minute into the mirimiri [massage] she identified everything that was going wrong with me and that was the only time where I felt relieved," Kaipara said.

"You have all sorts of different rongoā and it's not just tangible, the rongoā is also the karakia , identifying the injury, identifying through the person what else exists outside of the physical injury. The wairua, what's troubling the wairua, the spirit, the life force, that person, how long they've been carrying it, whether or not it's just a physical injury or are there external factors to consider and then that unfolds the best practice."

She felt better in the 24 hours after seeing her aunty compared to the first six weeks after her injury.

She also said the connection between a patient and the person practising rongoā was key.

"The total difference between a rongoā practitioner and a Western practitioner, it's not about the time, it's about the person and the injury and ensuring that you do your best to help the healing process. You can heal through kōrero, you can heal through kai, you heal through yes romiromi [deep-tissue massage] and stuff but it's the extra stuff as well like just sitting and talking."

She said her treatment also involved "a specific karakia for concussions".

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