News the Government will fund new HPV self tests in a bid to fight cervical cancer in New Zealand has come as "monumental" news for advocates and experts.
And for many women across the country, the funding could be life-saving.
"The Government's announcement [yesterday] on women's health is monumental for whānau Māori and for Aotearoa/New Zealand," says School of Indigenous Graduate Studies Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi Professor Mera Penehira.
Although happy the announcement has been made, the Cancer Society said it has taken too long for the Government to get here, given moves towards self-testing were first made in 2016.
Yesterday, in a pre-Budget announcement, the Government revealed it would spend $118m on a range of new cancer-fighting initiatives.
Some $53m will be spent on the development of a new human papillomavirus (HPV) test, which will replace the current smear test – it will be fully implemented by 2023.
It is, according to Associate Health Minister Ayesha Verrall, a simple and quick swab that women can choose to do themselves.
"This will help to reduce the barriers to getting screened."
Speaking to media, Verrall said she had been a doctor for a long time and she had met many, many women who have been affected by cervical and breast cancer – "today's announcement is for all of them".
The announcement is one that advocates have been calling for for some time – especially after Cabinet minister Kiri Allan announced she had stage three cervical cancer last month.
Verrall said she spoke to Allan about the announcement on Saturday night – "she's just so excited about the change".
Anna Adcock from Victoria University of Wellington's Centre for Women's Health Research has said a self-swab test could be a "game-changer" and would be key to help Māori women overcome reservations about having a smear.
Penehira said the announcement is important because it means there is a specific focus and ownership of the health inequities experienced by wāhine Māori in accessing preventative and treatment services for cervical cancer.
"Our survival rates are shocking when compared to non-Māori," she said.
"As MP Kiritapu Allen recently advised, whilst non-Māori have a 40 per cent chance of surviving the cervical cancer that she has recently been diagnosed with, as a wahine Māori, she has just a 13 per cent chance of survival."
Cancer Society chief executive Lucy Elwood said the new HPV test will reduce the testing requirements to once every five years for most women and there is a self-screening test that allows women to sample at home.
The other half of the announcement was that almost 300,000 extra women will be eligible for potentially life-saving free breast scans because of a $55 million upgrade of the Government's aged IT systems.
The money for the new IT system will help proactivity identify and enrol eligible women into the Government's free mammography screening programme.
The existing system operates as an "opt-in" model, whereby women choose to enrol for breast screening via their GP or by calling an 0800 number.
University of Otago Associate Dean Māori and Director of Te Ropu Rangahau Hauora a Eru Pomare, Bridget Robson, said an opt-off register that actively invites women to enrol in breast screening is one step to increase Māori access alongside other equity strategies.
"Women who opt off should have the opportunity to enrol at a future date and self-enrolment in breast screening must remain an option, especially for women who are not enrolled with primary care."
In addition to the $55m in upgrading the IT system, Verrall announced a further $10m to be spent on catching up on providing those who missed their screenings because of Covid-19 lockdowns with a free scan.