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Taonga bringing down SUDI deaths

MAORI from around the country came to Gisborne to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the development of the wahakura, which has done much to reduce the SUDI (Sudden Unexpected Death in Infancy) death rate.

The wahakura, a flax bassinet, is the Maori safe-sleeping device developed by the Nukutere Weavers’ Collective in 2005, and launched in Gisborne in 2006 by the late Parekura Horomia.

The wahakura has a traditional forebear in the parakaraka, a similar pre-European structure slung from the rafters of the whare.

Research shows that whanau like and embrace the wahakura as a cultural device to keep babies safe. It is also an effective vessel around which to pass on a range of ante-natal messages.

Maori Development Minister Te Ururoa Flavell told the symposium that his mokopuna had a wahakura.

The wahakura was about looking after whanau, but Maori did not always take their opportunities. The wahakura had been “around forever” and ‘‘right under our noses’’, he said.

The wahakura was “our taonga and our way of doing things”. It provided a real connection, and it was good to see people from around the country at the two-day symposium.

Dr David Tipene-Leach from Whakawhetu, the national Maori SUDI prevention programme, said the effort of the many women present was the reason so many babies were still alive.

“When iwi and hapu get together, they weave," he said. “Many women are weaving their hearts out.”

He congratulated the Ngati Porou and Waikato programmes. He said he was blown away by the achievements of the last 10 years where SUDI death rates had fallen, and by the commitment to the next three years, over which time it could be expected death rates would continue to fall.

Green MP Marama Davidson said Maori babies made up more than 60 percent of all SUDI deaths in New Zealand.

“It is another signal that Government agencies are not doing enough to help keep our tamariki safe. We know that parental post-natal support is critical to reducing SUDI death rates.

“Maori parents are not getting the wraparound Government support they desperately need, and our babies are dying because of it.”

LOOKING AFTER BABY: Maori public health physician Dr David Tipene-Leach speaking at a symposium to mark the 10th anniversary of the wahakura. Picture by Paul Rickard