By Rosemary Rangitauira 27/10/2021

Dr Anna Rolleston and her team in Tauranga are on a mission to develop a new way of delivering healthcare that demonstrates the power of tikanga Māori and supports people taking control of their hauora (health).

Anna, who holds a PhD in medicine, is the managing director of the Centre for Health in Tauranga. Hailing from Tauranga Moana, Anna (Ngāti Ranginui, Ngāi te Rangi, Ngāti Pūkenga) is passionate about delivering a kaupapa Māori health model that isn’t constrained by ‘how things should be done’.

“We made a conscious decision when we started the centre in 2010 that we wouldn’t seek Ministry of Health or District Health Board funding because it comes with strings and tick boxes.”

She says not applying for central funding means the clinic can offer various services that are flexible and are aligned with the people they are meant to help.

“We wanted to provide a service that traverses the gambit of health including medical, kaupapa Māori and rongoā Māori (Māori medicines). We wanted to provide our clients with care that suited their belief systems,” she says.

Originally, the centre was called The Cardiac Clinic and served people with heart-related conditions, including, thanks to initial funding from the Heart Foundation, a pilot 12-week lifestyle management programme that focussed on cardiovascular risk.

Anna says that pilot was successful resulting in further funding to advance the programme and data collection. By 2018, the centre rebranded to the Centre for Health because about half of its clientele includes people wanting health support for conditions other than heart health.

“People come to us mainly because of word-of-mouth. We do also receive a few cardiology referrals and referrals from GPs who take a holistic approach to health.”

Although Anna is driven to provide a kaupapa Māori-designed establishment, she says their clients aren’t just Māori.

“When you come through our doors, we don’t label you by your illness. The first pātai (question) we ask you – is What does your hauora (health) mean to you? – and we work with that to understand what is important. Then we work with them to develop a programme that supports what they want to achieve.

All our programmes are customised to each person and incorporate physical, mental, spiritual and whānau wellbeing, she says.

“The key components tend to be exercise and kai. But the taha hinengaro (mental and emotional wellbeing) is big for us because we know that the basis of dis-ease is trauma. We work with our clients to figure out where their trauma is coming from. For our Māori clients, it’s usually hooked up in colonisation and racism – trauma embedded in whakapapa over generations.”

In addition to their dietary and physical wellbeing, Anna says their clients can work alongside a psycho-neuro immunologist, who looks at how their thoughts and emotions can affect physical wellbeing. This support helps those who visit the centre work through their trauma and contributes to uplifting their wellbeing.

The Centre for Health is dedicated to research and exploring better ways to improve the country’s health system.

You can find a snapshot of the centre’s research on its website.

Anna says the centre is due to pull together new data from working with their clients over the past 18 months which will build on its 2019 report entitled The effect of an exercise and lifestyle management programme on cardiovascular risk reduction: rationale and design of a cluster controlled trial using a kaupapa Māori philosophy.

Anna who is also a co-director of the Healthy Hearts for Aotearoa says it is a stepping stone for her and her whānau.

“My ultimate goal is for wellbeing to be normal for everyone in Aotearoa. This is not just a Māori model, it is a human right. No one wants to be sick. We, at the Centre for Health, are working on developing research and practices that strive to prevent ill health by creating health care that works for you and with you.”

She’s pleased the country’s health system is changing and a Māori health authority will be established, saying it’s a move in the right direction because the DHB approach is “the Titanic”.

Anna says her whānau inspires her and her work to contribute and explore alternative ways to improve the current health system.

“I’m here doing what I think I’m here to do, to help people reinstate their health,” she says.