Body and spirit

Racism is affecting health outcomes in real patients, but a group of Māori doctors and researchers are fighting to extinguish institutional racism in our healthcare system.

There is mounting evidence to confirm that racism in the New Zealand health system negatively impacts health outcomes for Māori.

Facing racism at both an individual and institutional level is a difficult challenge to meet, but one a number of academics have dedicated years of research to. Through their insight, they encourage people to recognise racism in healthcare and understand ways to eliminate it.

Donna Cormack (Kāti Mamoe, Kāi Tahu) and Ricci Harris (Ngāti Kahungunu, Ngāti Raukawa, Ngāi Tahu) have together undertaken research on the ways racism impacts the health of Māori.

They describe racism as a system that is underpinned by ideas of superiority and inferiority on the basis or ethnicity or race.

"It can lead to differential power, racial discrimination and inequities in access to opportunities and resources," says Cormack.

Racism can drive ethnic inequities in so many areas of life which impact health, such as poverty, education, housing, employment and incarceration, she says.

"It can also have other more direct impacts on the physical and psychological health of a patient," Cormack explains. "It can lead to racially-motivated violence and harassment, can influence health by acting as a form of chronic stress, and can lead to differences in the access to, and quality of care for Māori."

Cormack and Harris found that Māori report experiencing more racial discrimination than that of Pākeha in a number of areas.

"This includes unfair treatment by a health professional because of ethnicity," Harris says, "as well as unfair treatment in housing and employment, and ethnically-motivated physical and verbal attacks."

Experience of racism by a health professional has also been linked to negative experiences with a health provider, and to lower breast and cervical cancer screening for Māori, Harris says.

"People working in health are also members of broader society and will be exposed to common stereotypes and portrayals of Māori, both within their work places and in their daily lives."

She says these portrayals of Māori perpetuate through most areas of society, including education and the media.
"We know, from other research, that some health providers in New Zealand hold negative stereotypes and beliefs about Māori, particularly with regards to compliance," says Harris.

In light of these findings, both Harris and Cormack know that there are ways to mitigate racial bias in healthcare and believe it starts with taking the role of racism in healthcare seriously.

Article continues in issue 135



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