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Representatives of runaka in the Southern District Health Board region yesterday signed an upgraded and updated "Principles of Relationship Agreement" between themselves, the Southern District Health Board and WellSouth Primary Health Network. The document, signed at Otakou marae, commits its signatories to improve the health and wellbeing of local Maori.
It also formalises the role of the SDHB’s iwi governance committee — a body which will meet at least six times a year and will also advise on board planning documents.
Te Runanga o Otakou chairwoman Rachel Wesley said the agreement had been a long time coming, and would make a difference.
"It is a commitment to working together and facilitating Maori-led solutions and allowing a greater Maori voice to be able to influence decision-making ... Seeing improved numbers is an obvious result, but I also want to see the difference in whanau as this makes a difference at ground level."
The return of an elected SDHB board has brought with it an increased focus on Maori health, and renewing the agreement was championed by former board chairman Dave Cull before his enforced retirement due to ill health.
“The health of Maori is a significant barometer for the health of the whole community; when Maori are thriving, we all are," Mr Cull said yesterday.
"This partnership agreement provides the means and measures for achieving this, and is dependent on genuine unity between manawhenua and the DHB."
Statistics in the SDHB’s annual report show Maori figures in most categories lag behind total population performance, including people over 65 receiving flu vaccinations, children being breastfed and women taking part in the cervical screening programme.
WellSouth has also acknowledged an issue with a percentage of Maori people not being enrolled with a GP.
Ms Wesley said iwi had recognised the increased efforts by the SDHB to engage constructively with Maori and she believed the agreement would have a tangible effect.
"The statistics around Maori health are pretty appalling so it has been absolutely fantastic to see a commitment from the SDHB to turn that around."
Te Runanga o Awarua chairman Dean Whaanga said the document represented a commitment by all parties to work together in partnership to do better.
"We need to make those Maori health statistics improve because they are not good at the moment ... This is a living document and renewing it tells me that it is not meant to sit on a shelf, that we want to make things work and get the health and wellbeing of Maori improved."
SDHB chairman Pete Hodgson said the disparity in health outcomes between Maori and the general population demanded improvement.
"This signing is a day to reassert our absolute conviction that the current inequities are unacceptable, and our shared unwavering focus on making the changes that are needed."