A Māori public health advocate and researcher has become the first indigenous woman appointed to the leadership of the World Federation of Public Health Associations (WFPHA).
Emma Rawson-Te Patu has been elected vice-president and president elect to the global body.
The federation represents five million academics, researchers, physicians and health promoters in more than 100 public health organisations around the world. Working closely with the World Health Organisation (WHO) and United Nations, it promotes and advocates for public health measures.
Rawson-Te Patu’s two-year term as vice-president followed by two years as president was confirmed on Friday by the World Federation’s general assembly in Switzerland.
She says the role is an incredible opportunity for indigenous voices to be heard on the global stage.
“It’s the first time there’s been an indigenous woman in this position. That in itself is huge in terms of having that face of indigeneity at that level globally.
“It’s an opportunity for New Zealand to share what it has learned in terms of things like co-governance with indigenous people.
“It’s also an opportunity to use our influence as indigenous peoples from a first-world country. We can actually say things publicly that other indigenous peoples from third-world countries aren’t able to.”
Rawson-Te Patu (Ngāti Ranginui, Ngāi Te Rangi, Raukawa and Ngāti Hauā) is the current co-vice chair of the federation’s Indigenous Working Group and a member of the Public Health Association of New Zealand (PHANZ) and its Māori Caucus.
In 2016, her husband Adrian Te Patu (Aotea, Kurahaupo) was the first indigenous person appointed to the federation’s governing council. He has just completed his second term, representing PHANZ and the Asia Pacific region.
Rawson-Te Patu has been working since 2017 alongside her husband and two indigenous colleagues from Australia to establish the Indigenous Working Group within the WFPHA.
“With Adrian on the governing council, we’ve been working in that space to begin to increase the voice of indigenous peoples in public health and particularly in the World Federation,” Rawson-Te Patu said.
“We’re looking forward to growing our capacity across Aotearoa and also across the globe so that we can achieve more. It will be great to use the Indigenous Working Group to strategically support this position of vice-present and, in two years’ time, president of the World Federation.”
In 2018 at the invitation of WHO, Rawson-Te Patu facilitated a world leaders dialogue at the Astana global conference on primary health care in Kazakhstan, which endorsed a new declaration on the critical role of primary health care around the world.
Rawson-Te Patu said she is excited to start working with new WFPHA President Luis Eugenio De Souza from Brazil, the federation’s office in Geneva and other working groups of the association.
“It’s a real privilege to be able to fulfil this role and work alongside others for the betterment of indigenous health,” she said.
PHANZ chief executive Grant Berghan welcomed the appointment.
“This is an opportunity to amplify indigenous voices on a global stage. Indigenous knowledge and leadership can make a positive difference to the existential challenges we face.”
Rawson-Te Patu’s appointment comes as the New Zealand government implements a major health restructure, in July replacing the country’s 20 district health boards with a single entity, Health New Zealand, alongside a new Māori Health Authority.
She said there was a huge amount of work to be tackled by the new organisations, but any step forward was a good step forward.
“I think this is a significant move in terms of central government understanding its Tiriti responsibilities and showcasing that in its systems.
“It is going to require a lot of collaboration and a lot of reflection on the part of our Treaty partners, who will need to give up quite significant space and power and resource.
“The right amount of resource going to the right places in the right way, and having the right capacity and people power to drive it – that is what will bring success.”
Rawson-Te Patu was the inaugural recipient of the Te Pae Tawhiti Masters scholarship from Whanganui-based Whakauae Research Services in 2016. She used the scholarship to look at the barriers and success factors for Māori who work in public health units.
“That informs and really drives me in terms of the work I do now in advocacy for indigenous peoples, addressing structural racism and the issues that we continue to face in reducing our inequities.”
She said it is significant that $38m in Health Research Council funding awarded to four independent research organisations this month included Whakauae and fellow Whanganui Māori health research institute Te Atawhai o te Ao.
“It’s a huge win for Whanganui to have two recipients of the four organisations that received that funding.
“To have that funding going directly to Kaupapa Māori research organisations, and in particular Whakauae, which is the only iwi-owned and mandated research service in the country so far, is a great acknowledgement of the calibre of the work being done in the rohe.
“It is important that our people are able to drive the research agenda in the public health space from our own world view and for that to be valued. Having money allocated at this scale shows there is recognition of the importance of the part that we play and the excellence of the mahi we do.”