Mainstream health practitioners turning to indigenous health models

By Peata Melbourne

Māori health experts say history has proven traditional Māori knowledge and practices work towards improving health and say it's time to build it into our national healthcare system.

Dr Jade Tamatea, an Endocrinologist at Waikato Hospital says, "The models that have been used for the last 150 years for us haven't worked and disparities have increased, so I think it's time for a new look at it."

Indigenous health practitioners and experts from around the world including Australia, Canada, and America agree that indigenous health models are a growing force. Australian President of Indigenous Doctors Association and GP at Nunkuwarrin Yunti Clinic in South Australia, Dr Kali Hayward says In Australia the Nunkurees (traditional health clinics) are backed by the Government and receive funding and medicare.

"The model is actually being looked at in mainstream, they're wanting to do things similarly and have what they call super clinics but that will lack that cultural sensitivity that we create," says Hayward.

Greek, Latin or European models have been used in health systems around the world to explain health. Tamatea says traditional Māori knowledge is powerful and can help close the disparity gaps.

"They need to be built into all of our health systems from primary level through to tertiary healthcare" 

In America, the way the health system in structured hinders any community-based models according to one Hawaiian Physician. Dr Martina Kamaka says the situation in the USA around validating indigenous models is frustrating and slowing the progress in America 

"Why do we have to prove something in the western way that we know works?

But it's hard to get that voice out," says Kamaka.

Locally Māori health models have been in practice for a long time using the Ngā Tapawhā model. These practices are growing and infiltrating the system bringing in social justice so that the social determinants of health are equally as important. According to one Hawaiian Physician, in America, the way the health system in structured hinders any community-based models and slows progress.

"It frustrates me that we have to go begging to the Government for things that we know will work for our people so I think the progress is super slow that way," says Kawaka.

"A lot of our non-Aboriginal doctors really don't understand the work that the nungkaris (traditional health clinics) do and fear that they're going to say don't listen to the western doctors, listen to us, but they work quite closely with us and we know that our patients want to be treated by our nungkaris" says Hayward.

Indigenous health practitioners told Te Kāea there's still a way to go towards getting more mainstream practitioners on board, but believe one step forward is a step in the right direction.