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$1.3m for research to indigenise health system – University of Canterbury

Recent University of Canterbury funding success could help inform Aotearoa health policy, practice and systems.

Te Whare Wānanga o Waitaha | University of Canterbury (UC) Associate Professor and Co-Director of the Child Well-being Research Institute Sacha McMeeking and Dr Sibi Walter have been awarded a combined total of $1,368,439 in Health Research Council grants.

“Our researchers’ recent funding success reflects our commitment to academic excellence,” says Pou Whakarae Professor Te Maire Tau.

In collaboration with 10 Iwi and Māori organisational partners, Associate Professor McMeeking’s research aims to help understand how kaupapa Māori improves health. Her research titled Evidencing the causal mechanisms of kaupapa Māori health transformation received $1,339,992.

Her team, including UC Associate Professor Annabel Ahuriri-Driscoll and Lecturer Aaron Hapuku, aims to dig into the deeper mechanisms that kaupapa Māori practitioners are using to create positive impact, provide a consistent suite of descriptors and a sound evidence base to value kaupapa Māori approaches fairly.

Associate Professor McMeeking says while there is an aim to improve Māori health outcomes by incorporating Indigenous practices into our health system, the existing knowledge on how these approaches improve outcomes mostly focuses on philosophy or limited impact studies.

“We often attribute health and wellbeing gains incorrectly, leading to misdirected investments that may not achieve desired outcomes, particularly in respect of persistent inequity. Kaupapa Māori approaches to health and wellbeing have distinctive and under-recognised mechanisms of change that have high efficacy but are not sufficiently understood by policy makers to attract sustained investment,” says Associate Professor McMeeking.

She says this project builds on inter-generational work that has progressively established several critical bedrocks, starting with pioneers who convinced the health sector that kaupapa Māori had a place. This was followed by those who have powerfully articulated the characteristics of kaupapa Māori delivery. Now, her research aims to explore the mechanisms of change in more granular terms.

“Understanding these mechanisms, particularly in kaupapa Māori approaches, can provide insights for more effective and equitable health interventions, guiding policy and investment decisions,” adds Associate Professor McMeeking.

Dr Sibi Walter received $28,447 funding for his research titled Effects of mau rākau mahi ā tinana among tāngata with glenohumeral arthritis. Dr Walter and his team are investigating the effects of mau rākau, a traditional Māori martial art, among tāngata with shoulder arthritis.

UC also celebrates four early and mid-career researchers who received Royal Society Te Apārangi: Ngā Puanga Pūtaiao Fellowships, receiving a total of $3.5 million. This fellowship is the first of its kind, aiming to invest in Māori and Pacific Peoples to establish careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics research and to grow the network of Māori and Pacific Peoples in the research, science and innovation system.

“It is great to see so many of our Māori academics be recognised by Royal Society Te Apārangi,” says Pou Whakarae Professor Te Maire Tau.

The UC recipients of Ngā Puanga Pūtaiao Fellowships are Dr Rory Clifford, Dr James Hewett, Dr Essie Van Zuylen and Dr Matthew Hughes.

Dr Rory Clifford

Ngā hangarau ara: New technology pathways – $800,000 (4 years)

Dr Clifford’s research aims to improve the digital divide between Māori and new Technologies, by creating unique opportunities for Māori to engage with cutting edge technology and Marae led initiatives.

Dr James Hewett

Characterising the biomechanical properties of blood clots – $800,000 (4 years)

Dr Hewett seeks to advance our understanding of how blood clots form in our blood vessels and how they grow over time. To enable the development of effective treatments for venous thrombosis, he is numerically simulating the formation and growth of thrombi in blood vessels.

Dr Essie Van Zuylen

Ngā harore pōhewanga o Aotearoa – The psychoactive mushrooms of New Zealand, understanding our fungal taonga species – $800,000 (4 years)

Her research aims to create a holistic knowledge-base of the endemic psychoactive fungal species, Psilocybe weraroa, and related fungi, exploring its genetics, biology and chemistry through a Te Ao Māori lens to unlock its potential therapeutic benefits towards the delivery of novel mental health solutions for whānau.

Dr Matthew Hughes

Iwi/hapū-led infrastructure development, and landscape evolution in the Anthropocene – $1,120,000 (4 years)

Although infrastructure is often presented as key for progress and economic development, the benefits of modern infrastructure, developed in the context of colonial settler processes with attendant land confiscations and alienation, have not been distributed fairly through space or time in Aotearoa. Covering two research themes, Dr Hughes’ research will inform optimal strategic infrastructure development, and long-term management of heritage sites and landscapes.


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