Maori babies missing out on midwife visits

Maori babies missing out on midwife visits

Nearly a third of Maori babies aren't seen by a doctor or a midwife in their first year of life, new figures show.

Their parents are also less likely to have been provided with information on how to avoid sudden infant death syndrome (SUDI), according to a report being presented to Parliament today.

Maori Narratives of Poverty and Resilience, prepared by Whakawhetu National SIDS Prevention for Maori, proves there is an "unconscious bias" against Maori in the health system, according to Whakawhetu national manager Kathrine Clarke.

In 2014/15, Maori made up 22 percent of all births but 31.7 percent of babies who didn't get a visit from a health professional to check up on their progress. Under the WellChild system babies get 10 free visits in their year, and 13 in total before they turn five.

Ministry of Health figures however show more than 4000 babies in 2014 -- 6.7 percent -- didn't get any visits at all.

Dr Carla Houkamau, who co-authored the report, says doctors and midwives aren't racist; the figures are just the result of unconscious "snap judgments".

"The concept of unconscious bias is starting to circulate in New Zealand following admissions by the New Zealand Police that they demonstrate an unconscious bias towards Maori," says Dr Houkamau. 

"We need to expand discussions of unconscious bias into the health sector."

The parents of 59.5 percent of babies are provided with information on SUDI, but this falls to only 48 percent for Maori.

Ms Clarke and Dr Houkamau and want health professional schooled on how to avoid unconscious bias so Maori get better access to services.

"While Maori struggle with poverty, Maori cultural values are very central to their sense of wellbeing," says Ms Clarke.

"When relationships in the whanau are harmonious, when they focus on Maori culture and language, then they have a sense of wellbeing. Our hope is that health services will take the findings of the report to help them shape their services, so that they are more responsive to Maori."

Green MP Marama Davidson, herself a Maori mother-of-six, will host a seminar at Parliament today where the report will be presented.