New Zealand has a large population of indigenous people. According to New Zealand’s 2013 Census, 15% of the population are Māori (indigenous New Zealanders), and 7% of the population are Pacific Islanders. Of the five million people who live in New Zealand, 894,546 people identify as Māori or as a Pacific Islander.
New Zealand is recognized around the world for its efforts toward indigenous relations. New Zealand first established a treaty with the Māori people in 1840, to which, over time, all indigenous and Pacific Islander communities have agreed. The treaty outlines that all Māori and Pacific Islander people are to have equal rights and opportunities across New Zealand. It has also allowed New Zealand to provide extensive healthcare to all indigenous people across the country. However, there are persisting health discrepancies between indigenous and non-indigenous New Zealanders.
Indigenous Health Challenges in New Zealand
In 2012, New Zealand reported that across the country, indigenous children aged zero to 15 years old were considered to be in overall good health. The discrepancy in overall health between indigenous and non-indigenous people came to light in adulthood. For instance, Māori and Pacific Islanders have higher rates of diabetes and obesity when compared to non-indigenous New Zealanders, with 44% of Māori people reportedly suffering from obesity.
Another health challenge for indigenous people in New Zealand is the heightened rate of smoking. Māori adults are 2.7 times more likely to smoke than non-indigenous New Zealanders. Additionally, 24% of the Pacific Islander population in New Zealanders are smokers. This is two times higher than the national smoking rate of 12%. The Smoke-Free Organization of New Zealand also reports that adults who smoke are more likely to have poor mental health.
A 2018 health survey found that indigenous people are more likely to experience psychological distress and be diagnosed with a mental health disorder than non-indigenous citizens. It is estimated that around 50% of the Māori population will experience a mental health disorder throughout their lifetimes. Of this 50%, only half will seek professional attention concerning their mental condition. By comparison, non-indigenous people are 25% more likely to receive professional attention for mental disorders than indigenous New Zealanders.
Access to Indigenous Healthcare in New Zealand
There is currently a challenge when it comes to healthcare accessibility for indigenous people in New Zealand. The government reported that only 61% of indigenous patients had their primary healthcare needs fulfilled in 2012. This highlights a large portion of the indigenous population that does not have sufficient access to primary healthcare. For example, many indigenous New Zealanders encounter barriers when seeking after-hours healthcare. In 2012, of the indigenous adults who needed after-hours medical attention, 14% were deterred due to the cost of care.
Indigenous Healthcare Initiatives
Improving indigenous healthcare has been a major focus for the local government. The New Zealand government emphasizes the importance of having accessible Māori health providers. These healthcare providers were first established in 1991 with the aim of increasing the accessibility of healthcare to indigenous people. Māori healthcare providers ensure that patients receive quality primary care with a focus on cultural relations and communication between the government and the local indigenous community.
Another initiative being established to improve indigenous healthcare in New Zealand is the cultural safety education training provided to nurses and midwives. This training places emphasis on the fact that healthcare professionals play a role in a healthcare system with obstacles and barriers that inhibit people from accessing healthcare. The training also ensures that professionals consider the cultural, historical and political context of each patient when providing care.
Overall, indigenous healthcare in New Zealand is of a fairly high quality. Despite having some health discrepancies, the New Zealand government has promptly established initiatives to target and improve the health situation for Māori and Pacific Islander people. Countries such as Australia and Canada are currently modeling their own indigenous healthcare initiatives on New Zealand’s due to the success of indigenous healthcare in New Zealand.
– Laura Embry