National | Cervical Cancer

'Smear Your Mea' disappointed health ministry usurped it, set up own initiative

The heads of kaupapa Māori-led cervical screening campaign Smear Your Mea say they’re disappointed the Ministry of Health has gone around them to set up its own wāhine Māori cervical screening programme, without drawing on their years of by Māori, for Māori success.

Smear Your Mea was launched by the late Talei Morrison in 2017 to raise awareness for early detection, treatment and prevention of cervical cancer. It has been successful in iwi, hapū and whānau structures and even in urban communities with social media campaigns.

Morrison’s whānau, including brother Eruera Keepa, took over the campaign when she lost her battle with cervical cancer in 2018.

'I was very disappointed to hear that they [Ministry of Health] were launching a cervical cancer campaign targeting wāhine Māori next month and we hadn't been included in those discussions' Keepa told Te Ao Māori News.

The group says it expected the ministry would actively engage with Smear Your Mea as Te Tiriti partners and to learn from its years of expertise as a self-funded, grassroots campaign but Keepa says they were pulled into a meeting with the ministry at the last minute to "tick a box".

"We went along and what I found out was that the strategy had already been developed, so what was the point in being there?’ Keepa said.

'We know better' approach

He said the Ministry of Health had spent $200,000 on its own campaign last year, which had been met with limited success.

'Granted, it hit just before Covid-19 but, honestly, what we could have done with even a quarter of that. I know what we could do with that pūtea," he said.

The Ministry of Health provided a statement saying it "hugely values the work" of Smear Your Mea.

"We are committed to continuing to look for opportunities to work with the trust in the future," it said.

The ministry says its campaign is informed by a wāhine Māori advisory group.

"This group is led by wāhine Māori who are experts in cervical screening and work with wāhine Māori who use the service," it said.

Keepa says fundamental to his frustration is a top-down, "we know better" approach from the ministry, which is being replicated across Māori health right now.

'Why reinvent the wheel?'

"Right from the Covid-19 vaccination roll-out, to Whānau Ora and the Waipereira Trust' struggling to get Māori vaccination data, we see it everywhere."

Keepa says time is of the essence due to a backlog of wāhine who have not been screened due to Covid-19 lockdowns and the ministry should move with what it already has.

"Why does it have to reinvent the wheel? We hear stories daily of women who are going and getting their screening because of our messaging."

From what he's seen so far, Keepa is not convinced the ministry's latest campaign will resonate with wāhine Māori.

"This is a system that failed my sister. As Māori, we know what works, and not just for Māori. We hear from mainstream health clinics that recognise the strengths of Smear Your Mea for all women in Aotearoa."

"Why don't we work together for maximum impact?" he said.