Māori Surgeon Awarded $300,000 Research Boost To Close Breast Cancer Survival Gap

Published: Wed 5 Jun 2024 12:33 PM
Dr Maxine Ronald (Te Kapotai ki Ngā Puhi, Ngāti Wai, Ngāti Hine, Ngāti Rangi)
Northland surgeon Dr Maxine Ronald (Te Kapotai ki Ngā Puhi, Ngāti Wai, Ngāti Hine, Ngāti Rangi) has been named the inaugural Māori Breast Cancer Research Leadership Fellow, in a bid to address the disparities faced by wāhine Māori and Pasifika women affected by breast cancer in Aotearoa New Zealand.
Breast Cancer Cure and Breast Cancer Foundation NZ have awarded Dr Ronald $300,000 for a three-year fellowship with Hei Āhuru Mōwai Māori Cancer Leadership Aotearoa.
Research shows wāhine Māori and Pasifika women are more likely to develop breast cancer (35% and 20% respectively) and are more likely to die from it (33% and 52% respectively) than non-Māori.
As the world’s only wahine Māori consultant breast cancer surgeon, Dr Ronald has advocated for indigenous health equity for many years. Her fellowship will focus on working with researchers across the motu to build Māori capability and leadership in breast cancer research. The aim of this work is to drive policy change and action to ultimately close the breast cancer survival gap in Aotearoa.
For Dr Ronald the fellowship presents a timely opportunity to bring her life’s work together and make a tangible difference for whānau and wāhine experiencing breast cancer.
“My ambition in this role is to bring our communities and clinical and research worlds together, so we are all aligned and working together toward the best outcomes possible for wāhine Māori and their whānau,” says Dr Ronald.
“I am really looking forward through the provision of not only equitable breast cancer care for Māori women, but also care that is aligned with Te Ao Māori.”
Breast Cancer Cure chair Fay Sowerby says she is immensely proud of the partnership: “Through my own breast cancer diagnosis in 2013 I learned Māori and Pacific women in Aotearoa New Zealand have much worse outcomes than non-Māori.
“We believe Maxine will bring focus to our breast cancer research programme and help address the stark inequities in outcomes faced by Māori and Pacific women.”
Hei Āhuru Mōwai Tumuaki CEO, Cindy Dargaville, says the fellowship will help drive necessary policy change to help eliminate breast cancer inequities.
“Maxine is a very highly respected breast cancer specialist and onco-surgeon, a long-standing member of Hei Āhuru Mōwai and trusted māngai (expert) in her field,” says Dargaville.
“Her knowledge and leadership in the cancer control space will be invaluable to improve early detection rates and treatment of breast cancer, and lift cancer outcomes for wāhine.”
Breast Cancer Foundation NZ CEO Ah-Leen Rayner says, “The desperate shortage of Māori breast cancer clinicians and researchers in Aotearoa New Zealand makes it very difficult for research and resulting evidence-based improvements in breast cancer diagnosis and treatment to truly be ‘by Māori, for Māori and about Māori’.
“We believe that awarding Dr Ronald this fellowship will help address this, and will effect change that will save lives.”
About Dr Maxine Ronald (MBChb, FRACS)
Dr Ronald is a general and oncoplastic breast surgeon at Whangārei Hospital. She has established expertise and experience in the surgical management of breast cancer and a special interest in addressing Māori health inequities. She holds the current distinction of being the only wahine Māori consultant breast cancer surgeon in the world.
She is a member of Hei Āhuru Mowai and Te Pae Whakatere (the Breast Screen Aotearoa Review Committee), is a clinical expert advisor for the Hospital Specialist Services and Te Aka Whai Ora, the immediate past chair of the Indigenous Health Committee of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (RACS), is a current RACS councillor, member of the RACS Māori Health Advisory Group, and previously served on the Perioperative Mortality Review Committee to the HQSC.
Dr Ronald is a current member of the National Steering Group for the Medical Workforce and was a member of the Planned Care Taskforce (2022). She procured funding to establish a Māori Surgical Research fellow for Te Tai Tokerau, the first project of which was completed using Kaupapa Māori methodology to determine how Māori in Te Tai Tokerau wanted the bowel screening programme delivered.
She was awarded the RACS Māori Medal in August 2023 for services to Indigenous health and increasing the Indigenous surgical workforce.
About Hei Āhuru Mōwai
Hei Āhuru Mōwai is a registered charity and national network of Māori cancer leaders from a variety of backgrounds including oncology, general medicine, public health, onco-surgery, wairua healing, health promotion, bio medical cancer science, mātauranga Māori cancer research, cancer screening, equity, haematology, pharmacology, advocacy, nursing, epidemiology, and Māori health.
Their mission is to embed rangatiratanga into cancer control, eliminate cancer inequities between Māori and non-Māori and advocate for better outcomes for whānau.
They focus on cancer research, system-level cancer issues and collaborating with Māori leaders across the health sector.
About Breast Cancer Cure (BCC)
Breast Cancer Cure was founded in 1997 in response to the high number of patients facing invasive treatments such as mastectomies and breast reconstruction. The organisation’s founding principle is rooted in the belief that investing in breast cancer research within New Zealand could make a significant difference and positively impact the outcomes of this devastating disease.
Their mission is to optimise outcomes by directing funding toward transformative research aimed at increasing precision in prevention, early accurate diagnosis and treatment with equity of outcome and quality of life for all.
About Breast Cancer Foundation NZ (BCFNZ)
BCFNZ is a not-for-profit, non-government funded organisation that depends on donations and fundraising for its work in breast cancer education and awareness, medical research and training grants, advocacy, and supporting Kiwis with breast cancer. BCFNZ’s programmes are evidence-based, and overseen by its medical advisory committee. The pink ribbon symbol is a trademark of BCFNZ.

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