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New funding announced for research into Māori heart health

New research with the aim of improving heart health for Māori is among a number of research grants awarded by the Heart Foundation announced today.

Research recipient, Karaitiana Taiuru from the Christchurch Heart Institute at the University of Otago will focus on older Māori (kaumātua) who are particularly vulnerable to heart disease. It is the leading cause of death and disability in Māori aged 65 years or older.

“Ethnic differences as key contributors to heart disease have not been well researched,” he says, “The indicators used alongside clinical parameters to diagnose the risk of heart failure are not established for Māori and are currently based on a predominantly European population.”

“We want to address this lack of data by undertaking a study of contributors to heart disease, including early indicators, in kaumātua in the Canterbury region.”

The research will see Karaitiana and his team attending hui with kaumātua groups at marae around the region focused on heart health and barriers to participation in clinical studies.

They will co-design methodology for collecting data with a view to understanding the effect of age on heart structure and function.

This study will lay the foundation for a New Zealand-wide study in future which can establish the contributors to heart disease that are relevant for kaumātua.

Mariana Hudson (Te Whakatōhea, Ngāti Porou) from The Centre for Health was awarded a three-year Heart Foundation Māori Fellowship.

In her hometown of Ōpōtiki, and a pharmacist by profession, Mariana has seen the health challenges of Māori first-hand, after part-owning two pharmacies in the small rural Eastern Bay town for many years.

“After reluctantly selling my shares last year, I realised if I wasn’t able to support whānau directly on the front line, I wanted to make a difference in another way. I am super excited about this new opportunity and make a step towards addressing the failures within the health system and historical mistrust by Māori of research.

She says these are not issues which can be immediately remedied, however the fellowship allows her, and her Centre for Health colleague Dr Anna Rolleston, also a recipient of a Heart Foundation grant, to deliver an important first step.

“We will create a Roadmap that guides strategy development and give a robust, comprehensive assessment of how research proposals will contribute to achieving equity in heart health. It will be a web-based resource which can be updated to reflect the shifting focus and to track the progression.

“Once established, it will be the main driver to develop a Strategic Plan for Achieving Equity. The Strategic Plan will guide Tiriti-informed policy into practice and influence the entire spectrum of innovation in the future research of heart health.”

Another Heart Foundation Māori Fellowship was awarded to Anita Rangitutia (Ngāti Haua, Tainui) who will investigate how whānau-led community-based cardiac rehabilitation can lead to improved Māori health outcomes.  

Evidence shows the absence of Māori in traditional cardiac rehabilitation programmes and it is unknown how well these traditional models meet Māori health needs. She will look into how a clinical exercise rehabilitation programme underpinned by a Whānau Ora approach can improve heart health equity and how the practise of this approach can lead to tino rangatiratanga and flourishing among community-dwelling whānau.

Heart Foundation Medical Director Dr Gerry Devlin says improving equity in Māori health is a priority. “We need to invest in more community initiatives across Aotearoa New Zealand, which are designed by Māori for Māori, to make the progress we need to make over the next decade.

The Heart Foundation has awarded $4.1 million of research funding this year and invested more than $82 million into research since it was founded in 1968.

During that time, New Zealand researchers and cardiologists have been behind many life-saving research projects.

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