Maori people are living longer, according to figures released by Statistics New Zealand, which is closing the gap between their life expectancy rate and the rest of the population.
Maori people are living longeraccording to figures released by Statistics New Zealand.
But while a Tauranga Moana health worker believes her people have come a long way, she says there is still work to do.
Te Manu Toroa general manager Pat Cook was happy to read figures released by Statistics New Zealand that show the gap between Maori and non-Maori life expectancy has narrowed to 7.3 years based on death rates in 2010 to 2012.
Maori men have a life expectancy of 72.8 years, and 76.5 for Maori women, compared to 80.2 years for non-Maori males and 83.7 years for non-Maori females.
It continues a trend that saw the gap narrow from 9.1 years in 1995 to 1997, 8.5 years in 2000 to 2002 and 8.2 years in 2005 to 2007.
“Maori life expectancy has increased but it is certainly not good enough – there is still a wide gap and we’ve still got some work to do,” says Pat.
Her organisation, based in Tauranga, is an integrated health service provider which offers a wrap-around approach of health care services to Maori in Tauranga Moana.
Pat says the trend of increasing Maori life expectancy is due to many changes – including growth of Maori health providers, education and use of Whanau Ora - an inclusive interagency approach to providing health and social services to build capacity of families in need by empowering a whanau as a whole rather than focusing separately on individuals and their problems.
But a main change during her time spent in the health care sector is the reduction in the number of young Maori people taking up smoking.
“I have a nursing background and I’m now out in the community as general manager of a large Maori organisation and I have seen some changes in my time.”
“The reduction in Maori people taking up smoking has been a positive move forward. You think about the diseases that impact upon us as Maori that are associated with smoking – you’ve got heart disease, respiratory diseases, cancers – this is a huge, huge effect that smoking has had on Maori,” says Pat.
“I also think having Maori primary health organisations in Tauranga have really impacted positively on Maori of Tauranga Moana.”
“We use to see young Maori males come through hospital with heart disease and they’d be dying from it at age 40 to 45 … and they didn’t present themselves to primary health services – they were too macho, too cool to come into a health centre – but I’ve seen that mentality change in the last 10 years.”
She says that some of that change in thinking has come from work done by Maori providers “and getting out there and teaching our whanau that it is not scary to be healthy”.
“Years ago, our people would to come into hospital and leave it really late, they didn’t come to GP for check-ups and they’d be really unwell and they’re rationale is ‘it’s my time’ and ‘that is what I get for not looking after myself’ but we’re starting to change that.”
Pat is a strong supporter of Whanau Ora and she says it has really helped Maori families with improving their health.
“This is where you can turn around and say to people ‘you are the leader of your own family and where do you want to see them in five, 10, 20 years’ time”.
However, the statistics show while life expectancy rates of both Maori and non-Maori have increased – Maori death rates are higher than non-Maori at nearly all ages.
Life expectancy at birth for non-M?ori exceeded that of M?ori by 7.4 years for males and by 7.3 years for females in 2010–12.
For males, 60 per cent of this difference in longevity was due to higher M?ori death rates at ages 45–79 years. For females, 72 per cent of this difference in longevity was due to higher M?ori death rates at ages 50–84 year.
“My message to people is to get help early – especially for our tamariki (children),” says Pat.
She thinks the main challenge for Maori health care going forward is political commitment.
“You can say to people – looks here’s good health why don’t you go there but for some Maori on low incomes – that is not realistic.
“Improving health care for Maori is complex but we are moving toward to making our people more aware of the benefits of health care and education is a key part of that”.
Total population life expectancy at birth in New Zealand is 79.3 years for males and 83.0 years for females, an average of 81.2 years, based on death rates in 2010 to 2012.
Public health physician for M?ori Health Planning and Funding at the Bay of Plenty District Health Board, Dr George Gray, says there are multiple reasons for the closing gap in life expectancy between Maori and non-Maori.
“The converging life expectancy of Maori and non-Maori is due to the dynamic interplay of risk factors, protective factors, and a group of drivers termed the social determinants of health (income, education, employment, housing) over the lifespan,” says George.
“Changes in these factors have an impact on death rates.”
George says the converging life expectancy pattern reported by Statistics New Zealand reflects net positive changes in the drivers of health outcomes which have occurred in the medium term.
“In the short term, we have seen improvements in Bay of Plenty District Health Board and elsewhere in childhood immunisation, access to primary care, cancer screening, and other measures of health system performance.
“Probably the simplest way to think of it is an inter-play between risk factors, which impair health, and protective factors, which improve health over the life span.
“In addition, there are determinants of health which have a long term impact – and they relate to education, income and housing.
“Essentially it involves the level of control people have over their lives but it is not linear – not one thing.
“What I’m trying to illustrate is that it is combination of factors related to risk factors, so the amount people smoke, the amount people exercise - typical things we try to prevent people doing along with protective factors, such as eating right things, exercising the right amount and having cholesterol at right level – also in addition to these two major categories there is this an underlying collection of drivers of life expectancy that we call social determinants – such as education, income, housing.”