Makaia Carr leads campaign to help Māori better access diabetes medicines

By Jessica Tyson

Social media influencer Makaia Carr is spearheading a campaign by Pharmac called You Are a Priority, to raise awareness about new funding criteria that enables Māori and Pacific people to get diabetes medicines more easily.

Carr, who has nearly 180,000 people in her social network, was motivated to spread the word of the campaign because diabetes is in her immediate whānau.

"My mum has diabetes type 2, so I am reminded every day of this disease and how it affects our health," she says.

"My koro has Type 1 diabetes and Type 2 runs strongly through a lot of my aunties and uncles so it's been a topic of discussion in our whānau for quite a long time."

Type 2 diabetes is a chronic condition that affects the way the body processes blood sugar, glucose. With type 2 diabetes, the body either doesn't produce enough insulin or resists insulin.

"For many people medication is the best way to be able to manage diabetes in your life is."

Carr says her mother focuses on increasing her water intake, monitoring her alcohol intake and maintaining a healthy diet and exercise regime to manage her diabetes.

"She swears by keeping fit to manage diabetes and managing weight."

Major price drop in medicine prescriptions

The list price for the medicines Empagliflozin and Dulaglutide ranges from $60 to $115 per pack. Pharmac's new funding means people will only pay $5 for their prescription.

"Hopefully there are going to be more of our people, more whānau who will now be able to have access to the medication that they need to live a healthy balanced life and be able to manage their diabetes," Carr says.

"It's also going to help free up finances within their household budget to be able to use that money towards kai."

Carr, of Ngaruahine, is alongside three other Māori and Pacific personalities who either live with type 2 diabetes or have whānau members with the disease, who appear in the campaign to encourage whānau to visit their doctor to see if the new diabetes medicines are right for them.

"When the opportunity did come my way, as soon as I heard diabetes and tangata Māori, I didn't have to think twice because it is prevalent in my whānau and for the past couple of years I've been trying really hard to use my social media platform and lean my voice towards any kind of kaupapa that's going to help the betterment and  wellbeing of Māori."

The other personalities involved include Bay of Plenty kaumātua Phil Merritt (Ngāti Kauwhata), rugby league star Adam Blair (Ngāpuhi) and playwright, journalist and film-maker Aroha Awarau (Ngāti Maru, Ngati Porou, Niuean, Samoan).

'Filled with whakaama'

Blair has most recently been a part of the 2020 Fitbit MoveMeant Challenge to highlight the importance of movement and physical activity in both prevention and management of diabetes. 

"A lot of my whānau got diabetes as they got older.  I reckon we are a bit stubborn when it comes to asking for help. There are resources out there to help us feel better and live a healthy lifestyle," Blair says.

Merritt and Awarau share their own personal experiences with type 2 diabetes in the campaign.

Awarau says the shame over having type 2 diabetes is huge.

"When I had my toe amputated because of this disease, I was filled with whakaama," Awarau says. "My lifestyle has completely changed as a result but I need medication as well to keep healthy.  It was a no-brainer for me to put my name to this campaign because I know first-hand what happens when you don't manage this disease properly and get the best medications."

At 71, Merritt is an inspiration for kaumatua and kuia living with diabetes. 

"I want every person to live their best and healthiest lifestyle, so they get to enjoy their mokopuna," Merritt says.

Equity step

Pharmac chief advisor Māori Trevor Simpson says the campaign is an important step forward in equity for those most affected by diabetes. 

"We have been listening, and people with diabetes, their whānau and health professionals have told us that there is a need for these medicines (Empagliflozin and Dulaglutide) to be funded to help manage the growing health problem of type 2 diabetes in Aotearoa," Simpson says.

Research has highlighted the disastrous outcomes facing Māori and Pacific patients.  Mortality rates for Māori with type 2 diabetes are seven times higher than non-Māori, and it is predicted that one in four Pacific peoples will have the disease within 20 years.

"We know that the causes of health inequities are complex, and solutions do not lie solely with the funding of medicines, or within the health system, but we also know that Pharmac has a role to play in making sure everyone gets the benefits from the medicines available," Simpson says.

"There are no hoops to jump through, we're simply making it easier for people to get their medication."

Simpson says Pharmac selected a broad range of whānau to connect with multiple demographics to ensure the campaign reaches as many people as possible affected by the disease.

The campaign started in August and will run until October.