Waikato study busts myth Māori don't take diabetes medicine - they're just not given it in the first place

Māori aren't being prescribed diabetes medication at the same rate as non-Māori a new study has found, busting a longstanding myth they choose not to take it. 

Researchers at the University of Waikato looked at data collected at a number of GP clinics in the region on metformin, a common medication for treating type 2 diabetes. 

"Metformin is the first line medication therapy for type 2 diabetes and should be prescribed for almost everyone unless it has not been tolerated or is contraindicated," said Jeremy Krebs, diabetes expert from the University of Otago. 

Māori suffer from type 2 diabetes at twice the rate of others.

"There are many studies using pharmaceutical data showing that Māori are less likely to use medication for diabetes and other illnesses," said Lynne Chepulis of the University of Waikato Medical Research Centre, who led the new study.

"When patients don't receive the required amount, this can lead to poor blood sugar control and increased risk of complications."

Previous studies had found Māori are "less likely to use medication for diabetes and other illnesses" leading to worse overall health, leading to conclusions they don't ask for it, or when they're prescribed it, they don't take it. 

This is wrong, Dr Chepulis says.

"This study includes prescription data from primary care, which is generally difficult to get hold of. Being able to include the primary care data shows that this discrepancy in medication use by Māori is actually due to a lack of prescriptions.

"I believe that we are the first in New Zealand to report on combined prescribing and medication dispensing data for diabetes medication use."

The study found no difference in metformin usage between ethnicities amongst those who'd actually received a prescription. But because fewer Māori were prescribed the required amount, their blood sugar levels were worse on average.

"it raises the question of why they are not receiving prescriptions in the first place," said Dr Krebs. 

Dr Chepulis says further research is needed to answer that question. 

"Understanding ways to improve outcomes for people with diabetes is very important to the health of Māori in particular, as well as New Zealand's population as a whole."

Earlier this year, then-Health Minister David Clark admitted there was institutional racism in the health system.

"We can see historic evidence of that... I think there is," he admitted on Newshub Nation in June, after initially dodging questions from interviewer Tova O'Brien.

"I think that it's very difficult to point to specific examples - that's the nature of institutional arrangements. But we are, as a Government, absolutely committed to making sure that we improve things into the future."

Dr Chepulis' research was published on Thursday in the Journal of Primary Health Care.