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Te Aka Whai Ora Disestablishment ‘Damaging’ For Māori Health Equity

Hei Āhuru Mōwai Māori Cancer Leadership Aotearoa is deeply disappointed in the coalition government’s recent announcement to disestablish Te Aka Whai Ora - Māori Health Authority.

The network of Māori cancer specialists say the decision will undo groundbreaking progress that was being made to improve Māori health equity within a public health system that often does not meet our needs.

“Te Aka Whai Ora was established as one of the recommendations from the Waitangi Tribunal and Health and Disability System Review,” says Hei Āhuru Mōwai co-chair Gary Thompson.

“This review found the health system had failed to recognise and properly provide for tino rangatiratanga and mana motuhake (self-determination) for Māori in health.”

Tumuaki CEO Cindy Dargaville believes Te Aka Whai Ora are “well on the path” to creating changes needed to eliminate unacceptable health inequities and racism within the health sector.

“In a very short time this Māori-led, independent Crown agency has enabled Māori health leaders to lead, and commissioned services and policies to make great gains in Māori health,” says Dargaville.

“The disestablishment of Te Aka Whai Ora is something all New Zealanders should be concerned about; it goes against the clear findings of the health system review.”

Hei Āhuru Mōwai trustee and Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (RACS) Māori trainee liaison lead, Professor Jonathan Koea, says the move is a "huge blow” for Māori health progress.

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“It’s illogical to revert to a system that has been ineffective at reducing disparities over the last 170 years,” says Professor Koea.

This announcement also comes amidst ongoing, urgent calls for the coalition government to drop proposed repeals against Aotearoa’s world leading Smokefree legislation.

Hei Āhuru Mōwai believes these laws were expected to bring about “rapid, massive and equitable declines in smoking rates and save thousands of lives,” says CEO Cindy Dargaville.

“Lung cancer develops among Māori at lower smoking exposures and approximately eight years earlier than non-Māori,” says Dargaville.

“We have worked closely with Te Aka Whai Ora to reduce cancer inequities in the health system and improve timely access to cancer care for better whānau health outcomes.”

The dismantling of Te Aka Whai Ora and the proposed Smokefree legislation repeals signal a shift away from a public health approach that enhances and protects the wellbeing of all New Zealanders.

“It’s such important work and needs us all working together; just as the rising tide lifts all waka, initiatives to achieve equity for Māori will improve the wellbeing for all whānau,” says Dargaville.

“Hei Āhuru Mōwai sincerely thanks all Te Aka Whai Ora kaimahi (staff) for their commitment to Māori health equity and we look forward to continuing this important work alongside you all.”

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