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How Dr Matire Harwood is addressing inequities in healthcare for indigenous people

When Dr Matire Harwood was seven years old, her grandfather told her she’d be a doctor. No-one in her whānau had been to university before.

Four decades on, the man Dr Harwood called ‘Pāpā’ would probably be proud, as she has been honoured with a fellowship in the 2017 L'Oréal UNESCO For Women in Science programme for her research in addressing the inequities of health-related outcomes between indigenous and non-indigenous people. Dr Harwood now hopes the $25,000 grant that comes with the kudos will turn data into action.

A clinical researcher at the University of Auckland, Dr Harwood has dedicated her career to discovering the inequities in the health outcomes for indigenous people. Her research is important to the 400 million indigenous people around the world and it could improve their health outcomes not only in New Zealand, but also internationally. “Indigenous health and well-being is an international priority, with long-term conditions the biggest contributor to life expectancy gaps worldwide,” she explains, adding that achieving equity within health and well-being will have a positive impact on the lives of patients, as well as for the community, the nation, and the world over.

And that’s not all. “The L’Oréal For Women in Science Fellowship will enable me to accelerate my work on the effect of indigenous-led interventions for long-term conditions including cardiovascular disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, respiratory conditions, obesity and smoking,” Dr Harwood explains. “This comes at an important time for us with Māori health needs a major priority in 2017 – [and also] for us [the] 2027 New Zealand Health Research Strategy which proposes more equitable health outcomes benefiting the nation as a whole.”

Since 1998 the L’Oréal-UNESCO for Women in Science programme has celebrated women researchers around the world whilst encouraging young women to enter the profession.  “We are delighted to continue our support for a programme that recognises and rewards women for scientific excellence and for their contribution to society,” says Martin Smith, executive general manager of L’Oréal New Zealand. “The L’Oréal for Women in Science Fellowship will assist Dr Harwood in achieving her personal goal to nurture the professional development of indigenous women clinical researchers. It gives us great pleasure to present her with the L'Oréal-UNESCO for Women in Science New Zealand Fellowship for 2017 and we hope this award and the recognition that comes with it inspires more women to consider the sciences as a career option.”

Dr Harwood was presented with her award alongside four Australian scientists in Sydney on October 31. She was also honoured at a local event in Auckland on November 2.

For the past 19 years, the L’Oréal Foundation and UNESCO have supported women researchers throughout the world who contribute to moving science forward. Each year, the For Women in Science programme highlights scientific excellence and encourages promising talent. Since 1998, the L’ORÉAL-UNESCO Awards have recognised 92 women who have made great advances in scientific research.  Two of them have gone on to receive the Nobel Prize. 

In its aim to promote and encourage women throughout their scientific careers, the For Women in Science partnership has also developed a global network of International, Regional and National Fellowship programs aimed at supporting young women who represent the future of science.  To date, Fellowships have been granted to more than 2,438 women in 112 countries, assisting them as they pursue their research in institutions at home or abroad.

The 2016 New Zealand Fellow of the L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science programme was University of Auckland synthetic chemistry scientist Dr Erin Leitao.