Concern for health of NZ's Pasifika peoples
A leading public health expert says the health of Pasifika peoples in New Zealand is going backwards and turning that around should be a top priority of the new government.
A leading public health expert says the health of Pasifika peoples in New Zealand is going backwards and turning that around should be a top priority for the new government.
Colin Tukuitonga heads the Secretariat of the Pacific Community of 26 member countries, based in Noumea.
As Karen Mangnal reports, he's told the inaugural Population Health Congress in Auckland the health sector has to change the way it deals with Pasifika communities.
Dr Tukuitonga is the former chief executive of the Ministry of Pacific Island Affairs and one-time director of public health for the Ministry of Health.
Despite two decades of efforts to lift Pacific people's health, he says it isn't getting better.
"Even in those indicators where you see a reduction the gap between Pacific folk and other New Zealanders has widened. Childhood infections and even adulthood chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease and injury rates, it's not a pretty picture."
Dr Tukuitonga says it reflects the widening income gap between Pasifika and the rest of New Zealand: high unemployment, crowded houses and poor access to nutritional food.
He says it's time for a rethink of how New Zealand deals with inequality.
"I did put out what some people might call an outrageous suggestion that the Prime Minister might want to set up a process within the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet to try and bring government, community leaders, academics, people who have and interest if you like in seeing things improve for Pacific people. Because there's been a lot done over the last twenty years but we don't seem to have made much impact."
Dr Tukuitonga says tighter tobacco control would be the single most effective step to improving Pasifika health.
The director of Action on Smoking and Health, Stephanie Erick, says despite an overall drop in smoking among Pasifika people at the 2013 census, there's been no change among certain subgroups.
"We're not getting down to groups like Pacific fathers, like Pacific people in mental health, both consumers and staff, like pregnant mothers, Cook Islands young people. We are following models that have worked for our main stream but we need to look back at what works for Pacific people."
Stephanie Erick says there's a need for leadership to address the environmental barriers to better health for Pasifika people.
"Now we could turn around and say that Pacific people need to take more responsibility for themselves but actually there's a lot of environmental things we need to do with takeaway shops and liquor outlets available for our communities. Pacific people are doing exactly what that advertising intends them to do."
The head of Pacific health for the National Heart Foundation, Louisa Ryan, says another big gap is the lack of a national plan for NCDs - or non-communicable diseases.
"I would like to see some leadership around that NCD plan because under that header NCDs are issues that are impacting on Pacific people's health, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, respiratory infections."
Dr Tukuitonga wants more support for Pasifika-led health organisations, which are using their cultural and community ties to get better results with things like getting smokers to quit.
But Stephanie Erick says the vast majority of Pasifika families are enrolled with mainstream health providers and it's important to improve their services.
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