Changing the culture around bed sharing has been a 15-year uphill battle for Dr David Tipene-Leach, Professor Māori and Indigenous at EIT, but one which has clearly paid off for the recent recipient of the Tahunui-a-Rangi Medal.
The Royal Society Te Apārangi bestowed the award in recognition of his work on the "safe sleep" programme, which employs a wahakura – woven flax bassinet – to create a safe space for babies in their parents' beds and helps prevent Sudden Unexpected Death in Infancy (SUDI).
For Tipene-Leach, it represents a shift in the way people think about healthcare.
He said the main message of the first Māori SUDI prevention programme of the 1990s was "get those babies out of bed".
While this helped reduced total SUDI deaths, he said the problem in the Maori community was slightly different and tied to various things like bed sharing or parent's smoking cigarettes.
"The orthodox way of preventing SUDI deaths was taking babies out of beds.
"It was a message laden with judgement.
"[I thought] we can do something here that will make bed sharing much safer."
His proposal was initially met with great scepticism.
"People said this was the worst idea. Some people said we were responsible for killing Māori babies."
However, the programme has seen SUDI deaths decrease by 30 per cent over six years.
In 2017 the Ministry of Health announced that the infant safe sleep programme would run the wahakura project nationwide.
Tipene-Leach estimates they have distributed about 15,000 wahakura over this time, and have struggled to keep up with demand.
In response they developed "its little sister", the plastic Pepi-Pod, of which they have redistributed about 50,000.
For Māori women, the wahakura is something special which allows them to feel more in touch with their culture.
"They love them because they're made of flax and represent something Māori."
"They're flying out the door, not just to Maori women either."
Even Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern had one, Tipene-Leach said, proudly proclaiming "Neve Te Aroha is a wahakura baby".
"To be recognised in that way after 15 years of banging your heads against the wall is marvellous," he said.
"What it indicates is where we are going as a nation and how far we have come.
"It's the beginning of the movement of mātauranga Māori [ways of thinking and practice] in mainstream health."
Tipene-Leach hoped to develop a clinic where mums could learn to weave all the accoutrements of pregnancy and "take control of the antenatal space" in the next few years.
"I am personally grateful to have been involved with a myriad of health workers and weavers in three iterations of sudden infant death prevention."