Māori maternal health inequity research receives almost $1m in funding

By Te Kuru o te Marama Dewes

A new research project aiming to address inequities in maternal health services for Māori is set to receive almost $1mil in funding.

The research, led by Dr Waikaremoana Waitoki through the University of Waikato, will use Māori knowledge and tikanga to empower Māori families. The funding from A Better Start, E Tipu e Rea National Science Challenge will be spent over two years.

Dr Waitoki says Māori communities, particularly rural ones, are currently underserved and overlooked in maternal health services and funding initiatives. Many mothers and families have limited choices in the care they receive and need and the health system has not prioritised Māori worldviews in the type of services offered, says Dr Waitoki.

“The services are just not available for Māori and many simply don’t turn up because the traditional model doesn’t make sense or fit with them, and that model has not served our people as well as it could do.”

Dr Waitoki says while the traditional medical model has a vital place in maternity care, it is well known that colonialization and racism has led to inequitable health outcomes and disconnections from Māori knowledge of wellbeing and maternal care.  These outcomes for Māori still play a big part in the maternity experience of Māori families.

“What these projects are attempting to do is move closer to our own Māori knowledge and Māori based approach, because we will engage more when Māori knowledge is incorporated into the model.”

Her research will take place across three sites in Tāmaki Makaurau (Auckland), Waikato and Waiariki (Bay of Plenty), and takes a co-design approach to understand how Māori communities support maternal wellbeing within a mātauranga Māori worldview.

The project

The project’s name, Raranga, raranga taku takapau: hapū ora for tamariki, comes from an ancient karakia used during the birth of Tūhuruhuru the son of Hineteiwaiwa (the atua of childbirth and te whare pora – the house of weaving).

The project team includes Dr Waitoki, Dr Kahu McClintock, Dr Naomi Simmonds, Prof Helen Moewaka Barnes, Dr Teah Carlson, Dr Fiona Cram and Dr David Tipene-Leach.

The project has three project sites:

1.            Ngā Māmā o Ngāti Hauā – Wellbeing of mothers and whānau in Ngāti Hauā (Dr Kahu McKlintock, Te Rau Ora)

2.           Ngā wai ora o Rāhui Pokeka: Creating communities for hapū ora in Huntly (Dr Waikaremoana Waitoki)

3.           Te Whare Pora: Wairua and wellbeing in hapū ora (Dr Naomi Simmonds, Te Awananuiarangi, Whakatane).

The first project is a community-based research collaboration with Te Rau Ora, a Māori workforce and development service in Hamilton, who will be working with Ngāti Haua iwi health services to investigate the current use of maternity services in the Cambridge, Matamata and Morrinsville areas.

The second is also a community and iwi based collaboration to design maternity wellbeing initiatives in Huntly, Rāhui Pōkeka. Taking its name from the many lakes in Huntly, the project will work to co-design a wellbeing programme.

The third project is located in South Auckland and Te Whare Pora in Flaxmere, which is a hauora ‘clinic’ for pregnant women staffed by weavers, rather than health professionals.

Dr Waitoki says sites like Huntly currently had little access to good maternity services for Māori. There was no 24-hour medical centre and although it was only a 30-minute drive to Waikato Hospital, it had been overlooked.

In the case of the weaving clinic, Waitoki’s current Marsden research shows how indigenous knowledge contributes to wellbeing.

“That research shifted the idea that mental health can only be treated by a mental health professional. If there was a pathway of sitting and weaving for a year as opposed to individual psychotherapy, some people would choose the weaving."

She says the research is about bringing the Māori worldview back to how maternity services are managed because the Māori worldview provides an underlying foundation, a connection back to the unique culture and a shared understanding and base to help whānau grow.