Rotorua Maori are three times more likely than non-Maori to die of treatable illnesses, according to a new report commissioned by the Ministry of Health.

The Lakes District Health Board Maori Health Profile 2015 is among 20 profiles commissioned by the Ministry of Health for health boards nationwide.

Lead researcher Bridget Robson said the profiles were a reminder of the "stark inequalities in health".

"They provide a useful base for identifying key issues and planning actions to improve Maori health," Ms Robson said.

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Amenable mortality was three times as high for Lakes Maori as for non-Maori, or 134 more deaths per 100,000, according to the Lakes profile. The avoidable hospitalisation rate was 49 per cent higher for Maori than for non-Maori. That equates to more than 2500 Maori hospital admissions per year which were potentially avoidable.

In the 10 years to 2011, the incidence of cancer among Maori females was 30 per cent higher than other females.

Rotorua's Vanessa Griffen is currently having treatment for breast cancer.

The Te Arawa descendant and mother-of-four recently had a pink ribbon tattooed on her middle finger.

"It's kind of like a big middlefinger up to cancer. It pretty much sums up what I feel about it - I don't think I'll ever forget what it feels like," she said.

Te Arawa woman Vanessa Griffen has stuck her finger up to breast cancer by getting a pink ribbon tattoo on her middle finger. PHOTO/STEPHEN PARKER
Te Arawa woman Vanessa Griffen has stuck her finger up to breast cancer by getting a pink ribbon tattoo on her middle finger. PHOTO/STEPHEN PARKER

Mrs Griffen sought treatment not long after her first symptoms appeared, but the disease had spread to her lymph nodes. At 35 she was too young to be on the government funded screening programme.

She is aware Maori are over represented in the health statistics and doesn't know why people don't seek treatment, suggesting it was a fear of the unknown.

"A lot of our Maori people don't want to admit they need help and like to deal with things their own way," she said. "I think a lot of it is about education - education is a big thing, everyone needs to be more educated . . . once you have a symptom, don't wait, get yourself checked."

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Educating Maori is important, agrees Rotorua community health social worker Makere Herbert, who has worked in Maori health for 50 years. She sees the future as being more positive as Maori became more aware of the importance of education and take on more leadership and professional roles in the community.

"We do have traditional healing methods, but a lot of our people have not been brought up with it and don't know about these things. Maori will often wait until they seek a doctor because they have other priorities - they often don't have the money for doctors' visits and there are overwhelming financial circumstances that prevent them from seeking treatment earlier."

Lakes District Health Board general manager planning and funding Mary Smith said rongoa, or traditional Maori medicine, was seen as a complementary therapy and was not accepted as a replacement for modern medicine in acute illness.

"Rongoa is very valuable and important in assisting with symptom control and spiritual support whilst people are undergoing conventional treatment. "It is unlikely any of our rongoa practitioners would purport to offer an alternative to conventional treatment in relation to acute illness. Most work alongside the GP or with the knowledge of the GP or doctor."

She hoped national health targets to drive cardio-vascular risk assessment and improved diabetes management along with smoking cessation will have an impact.

"All of Rotorua GPs, hospital services and community health providers are focused on these strategies - already we are seeing improvements that will, in time result in better outcomes."