New Zealand / Te Ao Māori

Smear Your Mea disappointed over Ministry national cervical screening programme

21:20 pm on 26 February 2020

The Ministry of Health has appeared to do some damage control after disappointment it did not consult a Māori-led cervical screening movement before launching a nationwide campaign this week.

The Ministry of Health's campaign for the National Cervical Screening Programme launched this week. Photo: Screenshot / YouTube / Ministry of Health

Smear Your Mea was set up by the late Talei Morrison in 2017 to raise awareness and promote advocacy and support through early detection, treatment and prevention of cervical cancer, for kaihaka, their whānau and their communities.

It has become a leading movement and voice in the cervical screening area, and last night the organisation expressed its disappointment online about the Ministry of Health's new campaign.

The Ministry's new campaign from the National Cervical Screening Programme launched this week with the tagline "give your cervix some screen time", with a series of videos starring a dancing cervix persona.

The campaign said while it was designed to engage all young women aged between 25 and 29 years, it had a particular focus on Māori and Pacific women.

Smear your Mea chair Eruera Keepa, who is Talei Morrison's brother, said they were a clear option to consult on such a significant campaign.

"It's really disappointing, and you would expect that Māori are the target population for all health strategies. I just would have expected that because of that maybe we would have considered having Smear Your Mea at the table, giving input to the campaign and leveraging off our campaign with the Māori community, but that hasn't happened."

The Smear Your Mea campaign, which was launched by well-known Te Arawa haka performer Talei Morrison (top middle) in 2017. Photo: Supplied

Research last year showed Māori women between the ages of 25 and 44 were three times more likely to die from cervical cancer than Pākehā women in the same age bracket, and there were low numbers of Māori being screened compared to non-Māori.

Keepa said it was a missed opportunity to not get their kaupapa on board to gain better access to Māori communities.

"We have worked really hard in these last two to three years, not to position ourselves as the almighty answer, but 1) it's about continuing Talei's legacy, 2) it's about saving lives, and 3) during Talei's journey we experienced a lot of issues which created barriers for Māori whānau and Māori women to go for their smears.

"Our campaign works at a grassroots level, we know what resonates with our Māori whānau, we know the approach, the language, the messaging and since that time we have sort of established ourselves as the leading Māori voice in regards to cervical cancer."

Keepa delivered a submission to the Māori Affairs Select Committee at the end of last year, as part of its inquiry into health inequities for Māori.

He explained they felt the primary health care framework had failed his sister and was too late to respond to her medical needs, and given that she was in a high risk population should have been directed to have a smear well before she received her diagnosis.

He also made four key recommendations - one of which was that initiatives for health promotion for Māori be resourced adequately, and that funding for community groups who targeted campaigns be considered.

Ministry get in touch

Following the social media post last night detailing his frustrations, Smear Your Mea has heard from a number of Ministry of Health officials and government Ministers today.

It said although it was not ideal and not an encouraged response, social media could be used as a tool to be heard and recognised.

"We appreciated their invitation for open dialogue and the opportunity to be heard. From a SYM perspective, we are happy with the outcome of those discussions, and we now want to move forward," Keepa said.

When approached for comment by RNZ, the ministry's National Screening Unit group manager Astrid Koornneef said the two groups had talked and were committed to continuing to work together to help young New Zealand women get regular screening.

"Smear your Mea is a highly respected and successful brand among Māori communities. The Ministry hugely values the work and ongoing commitment of Smear Your Mea in encouraging and supporting Māori women, of all ages, to participate in cervical screening.

She said the ministry's campaign had been created to address declining screening rates for all young New Zealand women, and its videos highlighted the importance of cervical screening to safeguard against cancer and protect future reproductive health, whakapapa and whānau wellbeing.

The campaign provided "an additional, effective and engaging communications platform" to give providers leverage, she said.