Prioritising Māori governance representation in the cancer sector, worldwide

21 Oct 2019

The 2019 World Indigenous Cancer Conference – ‘Respect, reconciliation and reciprocity: connecting across knowledge systems’ – was held in Calgary, Canada last month. It was attended and presented at by Rawiri Blundell, Māori health manager.

Cancer in indigenous populations, globally, has largely been overlooked, despite evidence that indigenous people in some areas have significantly greater mortality and lower cancer survival. Indigenous people make up about 5 per cent of the world’s population and their poorer health and social disadvantage are of increasing international interest, reflected by the formation of a United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues two decades ago.

The intent of the conference was to provide opportunities to foster new collaboration, enhance capacity, and share knowledge and information about cancer and indigenous people internationally. The conference organisers brought together indigenous communities and experts working in a variety of disciplines to discuss the latest findings in the field and to stimulate the development of international collaborations and encourage high quality cancer research.

Rawiri attended the conference, presenting with Gary Thompson from Kaiwhakarite Community Waikato, on Māori cancer leadership in Aotearoa, New Zealand – naming their presentation Reconciliation in cancer control inequities with indigenous peoples.

“In attempts to reduce the global burden of cancer, we need to acknowledge and address its considerable burden affecting indigenous peoples around the world. This includes acknowledgment of the importance of full engagement with indigenous peoples, encouraging the use of indigenous knowledge, and careful assessment of inherent bias that can affect both diagnosis and treatment,” says Rawiri.

“There’s little variation between indigenous groups internationally in terms of seeking cancer treatment and diagnosis,” he continues, “but the challenge for our sector, particularly for Māori, is that research continues to indicate Māori experience inequities from first diagnosis through to treatment, which contributes to poorer outcomes for them. Contributing to this is late diagnosis, when the cancer is more advanced, and treatment can then become riskier.”

Rawiri appreciated the opportunity to present alongside Gary Thompson.

“We both have been working in the sector for some years now, but to present to an international audience was awesome. A lot of the challenges indigenous people experience globally within cancer are very similar to those here in New Zealand. There is a real need to further develop research-based indigenous tools and frameworks within the cancer continuum that can support the holistic and clinical outcome to those experiencing cancer,” he said.

Rawiri was asked to present at the conference due to his contributions to the New Zealand cancer sector and his involvement in establishing Hei Ahuru Mowai – the National Māori Cancer Advisory Board, together with previous work colleagues. The presentation outlined the challenges and processes in establishing the board, but also highlighted how six years on it has become an integral advisory board to the New Zealand Ministry of Health and other government agencies.