Mana wāhine doctors recognised at 2019 Research Honours Aotearoa

Hosted by Royal Society Te Apārangi, the achievements and contributions of innovators, kairangahau Māori, researchers and scholars were recognised at this year’s Research Honours Aotearoa at the Dunedin Town Hall in Ōtepoti, Dunedin on Rapare 17 Whiringa-ā-nuku.

Dr Lisa Te Morenga (Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei, Te Uri o Hau, Te Rarawa), Victoria University of Wellington, was awarded the Hamilton Award for providing irrefutable evidence that sugar in the diet contributes to weight gain. Dr Te Morenga’s breakthrough meta-analysis study, published in the British Medical Journal, clearly demonstrated a link between free sugars in the diet and the risk of excessive weight gain. The study found sugar increased weight by promoting excess energy consumption, not through metabolic effects. Based on this research, the World Health Organisation has updated its guidelines to limit free sugar in the diet and many countries have introduced new policies to reduce sugar consumption

Dr Anne-Marie Jackson (Ngāti Whātua, Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Wai, Ngāti Kahu o Whangaroa, Te Roroa), University of Otago, received the Te Kōpūnui Māori Research Award for forging new knowledge at the interface of mātauranga Māori and the physical sciences. Dr Jackson studies how traditional connections with water and ocean can bring flourishing health. She is part of a team creating a water safety programme for Māori that seeks to strengthen whānau connections to water and reduce drownings. She is co-founder of Te Koronga – a Māori postgraduate research excellence group focussed on ancestral scholarship and excellence, leadership and community connectedness—which is building a strong platform for Indigenous research at her university.

The Health Research Council of New Zealand awarded the Te Tohu Rapuora Award to Dr Matire Harwood (Ngāpuhi) of the University of Auckland for her outstanding leadership and contribution to Māori health. Dr Harwood is a doctor at a busy general practice and an inspirational leader and teacher in hauora Māori, yet she has still managed to find the time to excel in a clinical research career that has improved Māori health in key areas such as asthma, stroke, heart disease and diabetes.

Dr Harwood says working in a marae-based general practice in south Auckland strengthens the authority of her work. She also mentioned that teaching and researching at the University of Auckland Medical School gives her the chance to critique the health system and think up new ways to address medial and health issues.

“I can also step out of that world and into the real world, grassroots level, and just see what works in practice and take that context back to researchers, to policymakers, to funders to say ‘What I think is going to work for our communities is something quite different to what you think and I know this because I see it in my clinic every day,’” she says.

Highlights of her research include work that improved the way Māori and Pasifika people were supported after strokes, changing the way asthma medication was administered, and also supporting the next generation of indigenous researchers.