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September 2, 2019 | by  | in News |
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Wellington Health Centres Working Hard on Research and Services for Women and Wāhine

For Salient’s feminist issue we briefly profiled some of the work the Centre for Women’s Health at VUW is doing to research women’s health issues and turn them into policy. Here’s a closer look at what they, and others in Wellington, are doing.

 

The Centre for Women’s Health–Te Tātai Hauora o Hine, at Victoria University, has the health of New Zealand women at their forefront. 

 

Salient spoke to Jane MacDonald, Senior Research Fellow, about the centre’s work. 

 

“The Centre for Women’s Health Research has a vision to eliminate preventable harm and death for women and children and reduce health disparities for Māori. Putting wāhine, tamariki and whānau at the centre of our research, being guided by our kaumātua,” says MacDonald. 

 

Being unable to dismantle the barriers that Māori women face in order to receive health care can be fatal, especially when it comes to cervical cancer. 

 

MacDonald explains that the current cervical screening programme “has failed Māori women… Twice as many Māori women die and suffer from cervical cancer than Pākehā women.”

 

Only 61 percent of all eligible Māori women in Wellington attended their screening, according to the last National Cervical Screening Programme Health Board Coverage Report, published in 2018. 

 

The centre is working on a solution: a self-taken swab for the virus that causes cervical cancer (HPV). However, “The National Screening Unit, who runs the cervical screening program in Aotearoa, has missed the funding two years running to change the program to include self-taken swabs.” 

 

MacDonald continues, “It is not an exaggeration to say that New Zealand had the opportunity to eliminate cervical cancer, with vaccination and screening, and we have failed.”

 

The study MacDonald refers to found that one of the biggest barriers for Māori women to attend their screening was whakamā—embarrassment or shyness. Fearing discomfort or pain, and having a lack or time. 

 

The study concluded that “three out of four study participants would be likely or very likely to do a self-test for HPV”. However, the trial can only be implemented nationally once funding has been accepted by the government.

 

MacDonald urges those who believe all wāhine should have access to self-screening should “ask your local MP why a new program with inclusion of self-taken swabs is not being introduced soon”.

 

The Centre for Women’s Health is not alone in believing our healthcare system needs to be more inclusive. 

 

Salient spoke to Robyn Goldsmith from the Wellington Women’s Health Collective (WWHC) who are “committed to actively creating a healthier society by empowering and supporting women to make informed choices about their physical, mental and emotional health.”

 

Like the Centre for Women’s Health, WWHC deals with a range of issues affecting women.  Counselling, pregnancy tests, and general support are just some of the free services available at WWHC.

 

Robyn explains that at WWHC, “lack of money is the biggest [barrier] we deal with here… Women often regard taking care of their own needs as an afterthought.”

 

Robyn recognises that “women are often involved in supporting other people: children, partners, other family members; so empowering women to make choices that work for them can benefit a wider population.” 

 

Robyn confirms that plenty of students visit WWHC and are always welcome if they need advice and support putting their health first.

 

Both WWHC and the Centre for Women’s Health require funding, trusts, and donations to keep all services for women free of charge. 

 

For more information about WWHC, the services they provide, or to donate, visit them on Victoria Street or visit www.wwhc.org.nz

 

More information about the Centre For Women’s Health Research and what they do is available on the VUW website, along with their donation details.

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