The health gap between Maori and European New Zealanders is wider than that between American Indians and the US majority white population in the United States, a researcher from The University of Auckland has found.
The results of the study by senior lecturer Dale Bramley, comparing disparities in indigenous health between the two countries, appeared in an article in the May edition of the American Journal of Public Health.
Dr Bramley concludes that ethnic health disparities were more pronounced in the New Zealand Maori population than the American Indian population of the United States.
However Dr Bramley says he believes the situation could be significantly improved in New Zealand by the introduction of policies to reduce inequalities, such as providing more services specifically to Maori.
He compared a range of health indicators in the two countries, including life expectancy and infant mortality, immunization, cervical cancer and breast cancer screening, smoking, obesity and diabetes, some cardiac procedures and kidney transplants.
“In the case of nearly all of these indicators the health status of Maori people was found to be lower than that of American Indians, when compared to the majority European populations,” he says.
For example Maori males have a life expectancy 8.9 years less than that of non-Maori males, compared with American Indian males whose life expectancy was 7.4 years less than white males.
Maori people showed the highest prevalence of smoking with 48.6% of adults – twice that of the majority population. In the United States 33% of adult Native Americans were smokers, - 36% higher than the white population there.
“The two countries differ in their approaches to reducing the disparities in the health status of indigenous peoples, and in recent years the United States has had considerable success in eliminating these differences in some areas.
“This is particularly the case with childhood immunization programmes where there is no difference in the coverage between American Indians and the white majority.
“In the United States they have a system of delivering health services directly to the indigenous population. It is controlled by American Indians and community based, so it has outreach directly into American Indian communities.
“Here in New Zealand, while we have around 200 Maori health providers, many of which are in rural areas, the majority of Maori people still attend non-Maori health providers and the responsiveness of non-Maori providers to Maori could be further enhanced.”