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Wednesday 31 May 2023 1:39pm

A team from the University of Otago, Christchurch's, MIHI (Māori and Indigenous Health Innovation) has been recognised with a major research award from one of the world's most respected medical journals.

MIHI's Māori and Bipolar Disorder Research Project Team has been chosen as joint winners of the UK-based Nature journal's Inclusive Health Award 2023, amongst a shortlist of 8 finalists from the UK, USA, Canada, Malaysia, Australia and South Africa.

The €6,000 award was given to each of the top three research teams for their body of work aimed at “uncovering innovation and best practice in inclusive heath research that's been influenced by engagement with affected communities and their expert representatives.”

Cameron Lacey image
Associate Professor Cameron Lacey.

Research Project Team Principal Investigator and MIHI department head Associate Professor Cameron Lacey says the Nature award is a huge honour.

“We are absolutely thrilled and humbled by firstly being invited to enter this prestigious award, and then to be chosen as joint winners, especially considering the strength of the other entries. This recognition is a testament to the importance of the mahi we are doing to ultimately improve the diagnosis, care and treatment of Māori and their whānau living with bipolar disease in Aotearoa New Zealand.”

MIHI's Māori and Bipolar Disorder Research Project Team put forward several published papers in their entry, outlining their body of work and its findings thus far. This included research identifying the barriers to treatment equity for Māori with bipolar disorder, and reporting the changes needed to improve the organisation and delivery of healthcare for patients and their whānau.

“We began this project several years ago, thanks to a Health Research Council grant, realising there had been very little empirical evidence published aimed at identifying knowledge and prioritising strategies to improve outcomes for Māori people with bipolar disorder in Aotearoa,” says Associate Professor Lacey.

Tracy Haitana imageDr Tracy Haitana.

Project co-investigator Dr Tracy Haitana says the award reflects a team effort involving researchers from all three University of Otago campuses in Christchurch (both MIHI and the Department of Psychological Medicine), Wellington and Dunedin, research partners across Te Whatu Ora locations in Northland, Hawkes Bay and Canterbury, as well as patients and their families.

“We are truly grateful for the funding support to allow us to complete this project, and for the partnership and willingness of Māori patients with bipolar disorder and their whānau to provide their expert critique of the health system,” says Dr Haitana.

Dr Haitana says the team's research has helped establish that people in Aotearoa living with bipolar disorder experience inequitable health outcomes, with non-Māori at lower risk of death from natural causes and experiencing lower rates of physical health issues compared to Māori with the same diagnosis. Those differences in outcomes were likely impacted by systemic factors, with medical and surgical hospitalisation rates found to be similar despite differing levels of need, suggesting Māori may not be receiving the treatment they require.

She says further published research from the team concludes that significant healthcare transformation is needed in Aotearoa New Zealand to better achieve health equity for Māori with bipolar disorder.

“Executive management must lead changes to organisational culture, deliver an equity partnership model with Māori, and embed cultural safety and redesign in order to improve patient wellbeing. A culturally competent health workforce is also a necessity,” Dr Haitana says.

MIHI's Māori and Bipolar Disorder Research Project Team is currently furthering this research, looking at pathways through mental health services for Māori with first-episode psychosis and eating disorders, as well as physical health inequities for Māori with psychosis.

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