Emma Rawson-Te Patu first indigenous person to take top global health job

updated By James Perry

Public health advocate and researcher Emma Rawson-Te Patu has been elected vice-president of the World Federation of Public Health Associations (WFPHA).

The two-year term will be automatically followed by a two-year stint as president. WFPHA is a global entity with more than 100 member organisations representing five million academics, researchers, physicians and health promoters.

The Ngāti Ranginui, Ngāi Te Rangi, Raukawa and Ngāti Hauā uri is excited by the opportunity to lead the federation, and advance indigenous voices on the world stage.

"I'm really excited about being able to support international associations to understand the place of indigenous people and the incredible mātauranga that we bring to public health.

"The way we live is public health. I know many of my colleagues and people before me have been advocating for our knowledge for a long time. I'm hoping that this is another step to bring us closer to the place where our knowledge is valued," she told teaomaori.news

A quick glance through the WFPHA annual report for the year 2021-2022 by teaomāori.news found no mention of indigenous health. Rawson-Te Patu says as Māori, she also has an "incredible opportunity" to exercise tino rangatiratanga for all indigenous people around the world.

'Saying what needs to be said'

"We are indigenous people in a first-world nation, which is quite different from being indigenous in a third-world country.

"We can go out there and say what needs to be said about the need to actually address inequities. We are not afraid of losing our lives if we say something in the public sphere, where other indigenous peoples are.

"That in itself sends chills to my spine."

Her appointment is timely, with the Māori Health Authority due to begin in August. Rawson-Te Patu says she would welcome the chance to speak to the MHA and the Ministry of Health about how they work mutually to advocate for Māori health, and by extension global indigenous health.

"There are gains both ways with this position. I think it is important for there to be a connection there."

WFPHA has already shown signs of adopting and hearing indigenous voices. Rawson-Te Patu is the co-vice chair of the Indigenous working group as well as a member of the Public Health Association of New Zealand.

At the general assembly held overnight at the WFPHA headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, Rawson-Te Patu's husband, Adrian completed his second term on the governing council, the first indigenous person to hold that position.