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Royal Society Award Celebrates Indigenous Excellence

Hāpai Te Hauora congratulates Professor David Tipene-Leach for being the recipient of the Tahunui-a-Rangi award recognising excellence in invention and creation. The Royal Society Te Apārangi awarded the honour at a ceremony last week in recognition of the invention of the wahakura as an example of "world-class ingenuity and/or creative use of new knowledge" in the prevention of Sudden Unexpected Death in Infancy (SUDI).

Hāpai CEO Selah Hart says the award recognises the transformative value of mātauranga Māori, "Professor Tipene-Leach has shown that Māori have the solutions to problems which disproportionately affect whānau Māori, and he has proven that a Western-based health system can adapt for the better by valuing and incorporating our Indigenous knowledge."

Professor David Tipene-Leach is a GP and public health expert, and Chairperson of Te Ohu Rata o Aotearoa: Māori Medical Practitioners. The "safe sleep" programme which was developed around, and incorporates, the wahakura, is credited with reducing SUDI deaths by 30 per cent in six years.

"This is also an important acknowledgement of the many kairaranga (weavers) across Aotearoa who have joined David in this life-saving advocacy work," says Fay Selby-Law from the National SUDI Prevention Coordination Service at Hāpai. "This is the only infant safe sleep bed made from natural resources, crafted using Māori ancestral weaving methods. Not only does it provide a safe sleep space for pēpi, the process of wānanga around the creation of wahakura has become a place for whānau to connect with each other, and with our mātauranga Māori. Through this we have seen how honouring Māori interventions which work for Māori is a way to positively connect whānau with each other and with their whakapapa."

Hāpai has been working with Professor David Tipene-Leach since being awarded the National SUDI Prevention Coordination Service contract in 2018, with a focus on reducing the incidence of SUDI to 0.1 in 1000 liveborn infants by 2025. A priority for Hāpai has been ensuring SUDI prevention services are culturally safe for whānau across Aotearoa given the ongoing, disproportionate incidence of SUDI among whānau Māori.

"I am personally grateful to have been involved with a myriad of health workers and weavers in the prevention of sudden unexpected death in infancy. The wahakura programme took ‘control of the intervention’ in the 2000s and the Te Whare Pora clinic where Mums learn to weave all the accoutrements of pregnancy will ‘take control of the antenatal space’ in the next few years ahead of us."

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