A new study has found that Māori are not getting the adequate healthcare they need for chronic pain. 

Instead of being referred to specialists and getting access to best practice treatments, it shows Māori tend to just be prescribed painkillers. The research was undertaken by  Māori community health provider Tu Kotahi Māori Asthma and Research Trust and the University of Otago, Wellington and released today. 

Kanohi ki te kanohi (face-to-face) focus groups with 13 kaiāwhina (Māori health workers) in the greater Wellington region provided the foundation for the research.

One kaiāwhina commented: “They do not even understand their own pain, and where it’s coming from; they are just … dished out pills constantly to mask their pain.”

According to the 2020 New Zealand Health Survey, Māori adults are 1.4 times more likely than non-Māori adults to report experiencing chronic pain.

Dr Hemakumar Devan, chronic pain specialist and Research Fellow at the University of Otago’s Centre for Health, Activity and Rehabilitation Research, says prescription painkillers should be used with caution for most chronic pain illnesses. 

He notes that the medication can not only have side effects, but will also become less effective over time. 

Under best practice guidelines, patients should be supported with self-management techniques, such as pain education, encouraged to do meaningful activities despite pain, and to reframe thoughts associated with chronic pain.

The research shows that whānau are often hesitant to talk about their condition with doctors. 

One kaiāwhina noted: “Often [the patients] say, ‘I don’t really want to tell the doctor; I’ll just live with it … the doctor will just give more panadol or tramadol or more prednisone’ and they don’t want any more medication. So they … make their own remedies. (They) might use some rongoā; that’s quite useful for bringing inflammation down in your body, and they kind of ease the pain that way.”

Some patients reported that traditional healing methods, such as mirimiri massage, not only improved tinana (physical health), but also wairua (spiritual) and hinengaro (psychological) wellbeing.

The study has led to a pain management clinic being run by Kōkiri Marae in Lower Hutt and a whānau-focused pain management programme was held in Wainuiōmata for the first time.

Cheryl Davies (Ngāti Raukawa, Ngāti Mutunga ki te Wharekauri), Manager of the Tu Kotahi Māori Asthma and Research Trust, worked on the study and notes that this is a positive outcome for the research and a step in the right direction.

“I think we are the first to hold a community pain management clinic in this way, so this study has been more than just doing the research. We have been able to implement some interventions, which has had a huge impact for our community.” 

You can read the research in full on The New Zealand Medical Journal’s website.

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