NATIONAL HEALTH -- Racism is the underlying reason why twice as many Maori as non-Maori are dying of cancer, researchers say.
Two of the five researchers from Victoria University, Marie Russell and Tai Walker, spoke at a national conference of Cancer Society health promoters in New Plymouth yesterday.
The researchers came to their conclusion that racism was the root cause after face-to-face interviews with 44 Maori within the central North Island who either had cancer or had someone near to them who had cancer.
The researchers were armed with "startling, scary and outrageous" statistics from Otago medical school research, called Unequal Impact, which showed that Maori diagnosed with cancer had a 93 per cent higher death rate than non-Maori and are 18 per cent more likely to be diagnosed with cancer.
Separate research has also found that GPs had a lower level of rapport with Maori, that Maori visited the doctor fewer times a year and that their consultations were shorter.
Ms Russell said their research put the human face on the research in an attempt to look at the "whys and wherefores". "We are trying to determine why. Clearly there is something odd going on within our health service," Ms Walker says.
Tragically, Maori themselves expected a lower standard of health care than non-Maori, the researchers found.
It is now critical there is an extensive and urgent need for a shake-up across the whole of the health sector to understand why the inequalities are occurring and put them to rights, they say.
Ms Walker urges Maori to be more assertive about their health care rights.
When she goes to a doctor, she demands the best, she says.
"They look at me when I tell them I want gold standard health care.
"I tell them I want exactly what you give everyone else," Ms Walker said.
"You have to know what you want and that you deserve to be treated in exactly the same way as everybody else."
They recommend an increase in the Maori health workforce and "navigators" to support both the person with cancer and their family through what they say is a complex system. Non-Maori would also benefit.
"And what´s good for Maori is good for everyone," Ms Walker said.
Conversely, the Maori they interviewed spoke highly of Maori health providers, of the residential facility in Palmerston North, Ozanam House, the importance of whanau to support them, and their need to undergo holistic practices within their culture at the same time as having mainstream health care.
The researchers, who are applying for funding to extend their research throughout the country, praised the Ministry of Health for working hard to put things to rights.
Taranaki Cancer Society health promoter, Elaine Jamieson, said the society was aware the statistics were not good.
"It is up to us as a society to make the changes and bring the numbers down."
Taranaki was fortunate to have Tui Ora, a Maori focussed health umbrella group, Ms Jamieson said.a