Maori health advocate to lead World Federation of Public Health Associations

A Maori public health activist and researcher has become the first indigenous woman appointed to lead the World Federation of Public Health Associations (WFPHA).

Emma Rawson-Te Patu.
Photo: Provided

Emma Rawson-Te Patu was elected vice president and president-elect of the global body.

The federation represents five million academics, researchers, physicians and health advocates in more than 100 public health organizations around the world. Working closely with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations, it promotes and advocates public health measures.

Rawson-Te Patu’s two-year term as vice-president followed by two years as president was confirmed by the World Federation’s general assembly in Switzerland on Friday.

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She said the role was an incredible opportunity for Indigenous voices to be heard on the world stage.

“It’s the first time there’s been an Indigenous woman in this position. That in itself is huge in terms of having that Indigenous face at this world level.

“This is an opportunity for New Zealand to share what it has learned about co-governance with indigenous peoples.

“It’s also an opportunity to use our influence as indigenous people from a first world country. We can actually say things publicly that other indigenous people from third world countries can’t. “

Rawson-Te Patu (Ngāti Ranginui, Ngāi Te Rangi, Raukawa and Ngāti Hauā) is the current Co-Vice Chair of the Federation’s Indigenous Working Group and a member of the Public Health Association of New Zealand (PHANZ) and its Maori caucus.

In 2016, her husband Adrian Te Patu (Aotea, Kurahaupo) was the first indigenous person appointed to the federation’s board of directors. He has just completed his second term, representing PHANZ and the Asia-Pacific region.

Adrien Te Patu

Adrien Te Patu
Photo: Provided

Rawson-Te Patu has been working since 2017 alongside her husband and two Indigenous colleagues from Australia to establish the Indigenous Working Group within the WFPHA.

“With Adrian on the board, we have been working in this space to begin to increase the voice of indigenous peoples in public health and particularly in the World Federation,” said Rawson-Te Patu.

“We look forward to building our capacity across Aotearoa and also across the world so that we can do more. President of the World Federation.”

In 2018, at the invitation of the WHO, Rawson-Te Patu facilitated a dialogue between world leaders at the Astana Global Conference on Primary Health Care in Kazakhstan, which endorsed a new declaration on the role cornerstone of primary health care worldwide.

Rawson-Te Patu said she was excited to begin working with new WFPHA President Luis Eugenio De Souza of Brazil, the federation’s Geneva office and other association working groups.

“It’s a real privilege to be able to fulfill this role and to work alongside others for the betterment of Indigenous health,” she said.

PHANZ Managing Director Grant Berghan welcomed the appointment.

“This is an opportunity to amplify Indigenous voices on the world stage. Indigenous knowledge and leadership can make a positive difference to the existential challenges we face.

Rawson-Te Patu’s appointment comes as the New Zealand government implements major health restructuring, replacing the country’s 20 district health boards in July with a single entity, Health New Zealand, alongside a new Maori health authority.

She said there was a tremendous amount of work to be done by the new organizations, but any step forward was a good step forward.

“I think this is an important step for the central government to understand their responsibilities in Tiriti and show it in their systems.

“It’s going to take a lot of collaboration and a lot of thought from our Treaty partners, who will have to cede quite significant space, power and resources.

“The right amount of resources going to the right places in the right way, and having the right capacity and power of people to drive it – that’s what will bring success.”

Rawson-Te Patu was the first recipient of the Te Pae Tawhiti Masters Scholarship from Whanganui-based Whakauae Research Services in 2016. She used the scholarship to examine barriers and success factors for Maori working in the units of public health.

“It really informs and motivates me about the work I do now in advocating for Indigenous peoples, addressing structural racism, and the issues we continue to face in reducing our inequalities.”

She said it was significant that $38 million in Health Research Council funding awarded to four independent research organizations this month included Whakauae and fellow Whanganui Māori Health Research Institute Te Atawhai o te Ao .

“It is a huge win for Whanganui to have two recipients among the four organizations that have received this funding.

“To have this funding go directly to Kaupapa Māori research organizations, and in particular to Whakauae, which is so far the only iwi-owned and commissioned research service in the country, is a great recognition of the caliber of work performed in the rohe. .

“It is important that our collaborators are able to drive the public health research agenda from our own worldview and that this is valued. Having funds allocated at this scale shows that there is a recognition of the importance of the role we play and the excellence of the mahi we do.”

Local Democracy Reporting is public interest journalism funded by NZ On Air

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