Published Tuesday 21 Mar 2023

Today (Tuesday, 21 March) we celebrate Race Relations Day!

This year’s theme comes from a whakataukī: 'Ka hao te rangatahi - Empowering inspirational leadership'.

This whakataukī is encouraging sustainable leadership where emerging leaders hold the responsibility for continuing the shared work in creating a more inclusive society. This also recognises the potential of past, current and future generations.

This is something that we can all relate to. After all, our journey in life becomes easier as we continue to support each other and respect all cultures, which includes, and is not restricted to, food, language and religion.

Te Whatu Ora – Capital, Coast and Hutt Valley is an organisation which strives to put equity at heart of our services and workspaces.

Across our district we have a diverse and multicultural work force who regularly engage with and support our equally rich and multicultural community.

We spoke with some of our staff who are leading by example in working to reduce inequity in health.


Why do you think it is important to reflect on Race Relations Day?

Rahini (Ethnic Communities Engagement Lead): “I think it is very important because a day like this is a great opportunity to celebrate our diverse people, culture and languages. In Aotearoa, we are fortunate to live in a modern multicultural society with a unique foundation in Te Tiriti that talks about partnership. To me, this day is about accepting and appreciating different cultures and communities that reside in New Zealand.”

Del: (Māori Equity Lead, COVID Response): “In the hierarchy of human experience, before race there is humanity. The experience of COVID-19 reminds us that viruses are not interested in race or culture, or religion; they are interested in biological hosts. And for biological systems to survive and evolve they require diversity. COVID-19 also showed that humanity can deal with problems on a global scale collectively regardless of race, geography, or nationality. 

So the importance of Race Relations Day is that it gives us another chance to see our fellow humans as human first and then we can celebrate with them, their race, colour, culture, religion, and family.”

Ivana (Senior Advisor, Pacific): “Race Relations Day provides an opportunity to celebrate, experience and acknowledge the ethnic diversity we have here in Aotearoa. This day provides us all with the opportunity to reflect on the country we want to build in terms of standing united against racism and hate wherever and whenever we see it.


What is the vital connection between race and health?

Ivana: “Being of Pacific descent, we tend to look at health from a holistic point of view. To us, the concept of “health” means the overall wellbeing of the whole person. This refers to their spiritual, mental and physical wellbeing needs, which is consistent with the Pacific’s holistic worldviews. Pacific Health models often encompass different foundations of life including family, cultural values and beliefs, spiritual, physical, mental and other considerations. These foundations are interrelated and for us Pacific people, health is about maintaining and sustaining the balance between these foundations.

To understand underlying factors related to poor health outcomes amongst our Pacific communities, social and cultural determinants of health must be addressed. Such factors include but are not limited to culture, religion, socioeconomic status and health literacy. Through using the concepts of Pacific Models of Health and understanding Pacific social and cultural determinants of health, we are able to inform appropriate Pacific models of care to best support our growing and diverse Pacific communities’ health needs.”

Del: “These next 50 years are going to be exciting for those working in health. Science and research gives us an ever more sophisticated picture of ethnic differences in health outcomes. That is something to be celebrated as first we have to know what is happening before we can develop strategies to solve problems. The health system can take what is learned and work with ethnic groups to tailor prevention and treatment.

In years to come, we will be relating to the people we serve quite differently.  For example, we speak about Asian communities when in fact we need to consider the vast differences that exist between Cambodians and Sri Lankans for example when considering health risks and outcomes.  We will have a more nuanced understanding of health issues across ethnicities. We will have a deeper understanding of more of the aspects that determine health within Māori populations and for individuals who are Māori. We will have an understanding that a Ni Vanuatu woman may have a different set of expected health issues to a Samoan woman and therefore approach each quite differently. 

As a society, New Zealand is beginning to see it may have some gold hidden in plain sight within Māori culture. Concepts such as manaakitanga have become part of the COVID-19 response to good effect. GPs have been able to call upon kaiawhina from the COVID-19 Care in the Community teams to check on people in their homes. Concepts of tikanga, wairua, and whānau centred care may be pointers to how care might be delivered for all people.”

Rahini: “Our race, culture, customs, experiences, and language are all key aspects that define our identity and can affect how we access and absorb information and services. Increasing our cultural awareness can help address health inequities and take preventative measures.

Language, for example is a common barrier faced by ethnic communities in accessing health information and services. Being able to provide translations of information at vaccination events for ethnic communities has been well appreciated by our ethnic community groups.”


What is Capital, Coast and Hutt Valley doing/have done to reduce inequity?

Del: “COVID-19 has been a good working example of how we have been doing this. We have had equity leads in Māori, Pacific, disability, gender, and ethnic engagement. Our jobs have been about ensuring the interests of those groups are always part of the conversation and decision-making. 

For the first time at district level, we have a focus on ethnic engagement and a dedicated team specifically representing the interests of ethnic groups. That is a big step forward in the road to creating nuance about who our ethnic communities are and what they face in engaging with the health system. The local health system now has a network of connections across many ethnic groups that become a conduit for passing through health messages and receiving a deeper understanding of population health. 

It is a step on a path but we need to ensure the value created within the COVID-19 response is handed over to other parts of the local health response so that it doesn’t get lost. Our Ethnic Engagement role needs to be moved to a permanent place within the region when the COVID-19 Response is wound up.”

Rahini: “We saw that the COVID-19 response demonstrated that communities have the strength and capability to work towards better health outcomes and intervene early to prevent illness.

We supported several ethnic groups to organise specific vaccination events in a way that brought their community together. This helped strengthen our relationship with ethnic communities including some of the hard to reach individuals and groups.

We have been working collaboratively with other organisations including the Ministry for Ethnic Communities to regularly engage with our communities.

Last year, we organised and attended multiple events to hear from the community groups on the unique challenges faced by their people and received feedback on support available to them.”

Ivana: “Over the past three years nationally we have experienced overwhelming challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic. This has encouraged the health sector to implement innovative responses for health service delivery to protect communities.

The CCHV COVID-19 response is only one example of what we’ve done as a District to reduce inequity amongst vulnerable population groups.

Having a pro-equity lens at the forefront of health responses with the ‘trusted faces, trusted places’ model has made the biggest difference and was a strength for Māori, Pacific and Disabilities Communities.

Important areas of the pro-equity response included outreach and in home support, ethnic based vaccination festivals and the use of churches to bridge trust gaps that have historically existed between organisations.

Improved relationships and collaboration have been key in the delivery of services over the past three years. An area of success has been the trust that has been built between organisations as well as the new, non-traditional collaborations; for example church and ethnic specific groups. It is important to note that COVID-19 broke down barriers in organisations to work together and improve relationships.”


Race Relations Day is observed around the world as the international day for the elimination of racial discrimination.

March 21 has been dedicated by the United Nations to the achievement of the goals of the Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. New Zealand signed this convention on 25 October 1966 and ratified it on 22 November 1972.