7 Apr 2021

Debbie Ngarewa-Packer urges funding for cervical self-test

From Checkpoint, 5:42 pm on 7 April 2021

Funding for a self-screening programme for cervical cancer probably would not be up for debate if it was about men's bodies - that's the view of Te Pāti Māori co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer.

The growing call for funding the programme comes as Labour MP Kiri Allan has been diagnosed with stage three cervical after suffering symptoms including stomach, back and leg pain and continuous bleeding over a number of months.

Last night we spoke to health researcher Professor Beverley Lawton who was pleading with the government to fund a self-swabbing cervical cancer programme  - that allows women the privacy and convenience of taking a simple test at home and would encounrage more Māori women to be screened.

It was due to be rolled out in 2018, but the government put it on ice despite support from Director General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield.

Ngarewa-Packer said it should be a priority.

"Most likely if it was a male's body we wouldn't be having this discussion in the first place but it is really frustrating."

While discrimination was a factor, women often put other people first - their families, colleagues, kaupapa and "this is exactly what we saw from a really phenomenal young leader in Kiritapu [Allen]", she said.  

With women trying to do so much, "we often don't listen to our bodies".

She said it was unacceptable that Māori women were being affected by cervical cancer at twice the rate of Pākehā, just because they did not want to undergo an invasive procedure - the cervical smear.

"So if we can address some of this screening and make it easy to pick it up and do it at home why wouldn't we?"

Many did not have the time to get to their doctor.

"Let's just get a tool so we can get it out into those families so we can self-test."

Ngarewa-Packer said the current screening programme was not serving Māori women well, there was a huge sense of whakamā (shame) about having a smear, and the ability to self-care was the last thing wāhine were dealing with.