Last week, I had the privilege of attending the Tu Kaha conference in Hastings.

This biennial conference for Maori health aims to share best practice learning and discuss future solutions to ongoing and persisting disparities in health between Maori and non-Maori.

Health providers from across the lower North Island presented innovative ways of improving Maori health.

Well organised, inspirational keynote speakers, grass roots innovation, this conference was positive and fun.


We have no shortage of innovative solutions here in Hawke's Bay.

Iron Maori was mentioned throughout the conference. Ngatai Huata, a legend friend is a mother of four, grandmother of 12. With Tiahine Kingi of Waikato iwi Tainui Waka, she co-founded and established Black Katz Kaupapa Puoro, in Flaxmere, Hastings, in 1983. Ngatai is a singer-songwriter, composer, recording artist, musical director and executive producer with Black Katz. Her workshop provided us with creative waiata music composition.

As she describes it, waiata allows us to express, to cleanse, to heal, to shed, to share, to give, to release, to recover towards health and well-being.

Inspirational speaker Professor Sir Mason Durie opened the conference with his presentation, Hui Whakaoranga Looking Back to see Ahead. He highlighted the past 30 years of gains in Maori life expectancy Why is it that just because I am born Maori, I will most likely die seven years earlier than my non-Maori counterparts?

He discussed how all iwi now have health on their agenda and more than 65 per cent have contracts for the delivery of health services, including primary health care and disability support.

Immunisation rates are higher and there have never been more Maori who have stopped smoking than in the past decade. All positive steps towards improving Maori health.

He challenged us as health workers that we need to examine our model of care "Understanding the problem is important, but the main question should not be: What is the matter with this person? Instead, the main question should be what matters to this person?"

There were some more challenging presentations.


A presentation by Dr George Gray, a public health physician, involved a Maori Health Indicator Performance Report. This reporting mechanism covers several health indicators - immunisation rates is one indicator, in a simplified table form, coloured green (on target) amber and red. A simple, but effective, visual way of presenting data comparing Maori vs non-Maori health indicators and comparing district health boards' performance that is easy to decipher. This also enables DHBs to share best practices.

The conference provided examples of how traditional Maori cultural practices and approaches contribute to health and well-being. Dr David Tipene Leach presented the wahakura, a flax woven basket as a sleeping vessel for newborns to prevent sudden infant death syndrome.

What makes Tu Kaha special is its strengths-based focus and endeavours to share and celebrate the things that are working within the wider Maori health and associated networks.

Tu Kaha provides an opportunity for hearing about effective practice and innovation in Maori health, and for discussing and identifying solutions for accelerating health gain.

The conference coincided with the release of the Hawke's Bay DHB's equity report by Dr Caroline McElany - Our Sick Bay. Some of our local health indicators are worse than the national average.

Because we have a higher Maori population here in Hawke's Bay compared with the national average, 25 per cent Maori compared to 15 per cent nationally, Hawke's Bay will continue to be challenged.

The take-home message for me from this conference was that, given the resources, Maori communities are able to create their own innovative solutions. If we all truly focus on improving Maori health in Hawke's Bay, the whole region will benefit.

• Ana Apatu is chief executive of the U-Turn Trust, based at Te Aranga Marae in Flaxmere.