29 Sep 2021

$4m for heart disease research 'game changer for kaumātua'

7:59 pm on 29 September 2021

More than $4.1 million in new funding has been awarded by the Heart Foundation to researchers seeking to better understand heart disease and its impacts on Māori.

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Heart disease is the leading cause of disability and death amongst Māori over the age of 65. Photo:

Four Māori researchers are carrying out research projects aimed at improving heart health outcomes for Māori communities and addressing inequities within the health system.

Karaitiana Taiuru from the Christchurch Heart Institute is one of the recipients.

Taiuru is focusing on the vulnerabilities within heart disease that kaumātua face.

This is because heart disease is the leading cause of disability and death amongst Māori over the age of 65.

Karaitiana Taiuru from the Christchurch Heart Institute.

Karaitiana Taiuru from the Christchurch Heart Institute. Photo: Supplied/Heart Foundation

He endeavours to attend hui for gathering responses from kaumātua and further understand the health barriers they face for his clinical studies.

Taiuru said studies into kaumātua facing heart disease had been under-researched and he wanted to change that.

He said he wanted to acknowledge the biases that may have existed in previous heart health research.

"There's plenty of research looking at the heart health of non-Māori, specifically Pākehā, but nothing to do with kaumātua."

"This research will help us identify the risks associated with kaumātua and hopefully provide some benefits to our kaumātua in terms of support with medication or research or lifestyle changes and maybe even identify if there's any genetic issues."

"Based on the literature reviews and previous data, Māori seemed to have been forgotten about in that age bracket- this will certainly be a game-changer for our kaumātua," he said.

The findings of Taiuru's study will go towards a more extensive study looking into the main contributors and risks for kaumātua with heart disease.

Having worked as a pharmacist in the small town of Ōpōtiki, another recipient, Mariana Hudson has seen first-hand health challenges Māori communities face.

Along with her research partner Dr Anna Rolleston who is also a funding recipient, the pair are determined to improve how research on Māori health inequities is conducted.

Mariana Hudson

Mariana Hudson Photo: Supplied/Mariana Hudson

They wish to create a road map that will provide a framework for how research projects can achieve equity by incorporating Te Tiriti o Waitangi and working alongside Māori communities.

Hudson said it was up to the organisations that were funding research projects to make sure they were contributing towards studies that looked at Māori health outcomes in an equitable way.

She said this research pathway has opened her eyes towards a new direction to help whānau, hapū and iwi achieve better heart health outcomes.

"Māori tick all the boxes in terms of chronic diseases, life expectancy and all of these things ... when we think about our whānau ... any way to improve that is going to be great for us"

"My project itself is trying to identify some of the gaps that are actually within the organisations that are funding the research"

"To ensure Te Tiriti o Waitangi is embedded within the whole research itself," she said.

The New Zealand Heart Foundation was supportive and encouraging of the projects being carried out by the researchers as they too wanted to see Māori health inequities addressed.

The foundation's medical director, Gerry Devlin, said he hoped the research projects would invest more into community initiatives lead by Māori, for Māori.

He hoped it would lead to the heart health of Māori communities improving.

"We know in cardiology, in heart health, we've got significant inequity, a lot of the common conditions that I see are affecting Māori and Pasifika at an earlier age and at higher rates than Pākehā.

"So far us it's very important that we strive to understand this and improve heart health for all New Zealanders" he said.

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