Hauora leader, professor and GP Matire Harwood has been recognised for her relentless efforts to advance Māori health, with a community service medal from the New Zealand College of General Practitioners.
At its annual national conference, the college stressed Harwood’s work during the Covid-19 vaccination rollout.
Harwood tackled disinformation in media, championed the advantages of the vaccine, got vaccinated on camera and rolled up her sleeve to vaccinate hundreds more at her GP clinic at Papakura Marae.
College president Dr Samantha Murton said Harwood’s passion for improving Māori health outcomes through research, advocacy, education and clinical practice was "really making a difference".
On one of the government’s vaccination days, Harwood recruited colleagues and her 15-year-old son to phone hundreds of unvaccinated young people, answer their questions and call them in. They vaccinated 600 people.
“Later, on the day of the vaccination drive at Eden Park, we vaccinated more people [at the marae] than they did,” Harwood says.
Along with University of Auckland postdoctoral fellow and surgeon Jamie-Lee Rahiri and Māori physician Dr Anthony Jordan, Dr Harwood spoke about vaccination through sport, especially waka ama.
She also gave webinars to kura, answering questions from parents and rangatahi.
“As one of the first people to get the Covid vaccine, I felt obligated to promote that. Plus, I said to my own kids (aged 10 and 15), ‘are you happy to be on the TV, in the media, as the first to get a vaccine at a drive-through centre at a marae?’
“By walking the talk, you can talk to other families and show that it is safe and effective,” Dr Harwood says.
As a professor in general practice and primary care Harwood has also undertaken medical research on asthma, heart disease and diabetes.
In recent weeks she has been raising the alarm over stresses in primary care due to increased winter patient needs especially as Covid numbers remain high.
“The medal came at a good time to show that primary care has continued to play an important role through Covid. Being a GP is a fantastic job that should be celebrated even when times are tough.”