A Ngāpuhi initiative is exploring ways to integrate rongoā Māori as an option for medical treatment by production of products that are consistent and tested – offering complementary options to pharmaceuticals and providing economic opportunities across the region.

Te Hau Ora o Ngāpuhi (THOON) has developed a programme to ensure whānau have access to rongoā Māori services and products, and boosting the longer-term sustainability of the rongoā by developing products that can be provided at sufficient scale and are certified for health and safety.

With the support of Te Aka Whai Ora, rongoā Māori products produced in laboratory settings are now being provided to THOON clinic patients, free of charge, to evaluate their effectiveness alongside mainstream treatments. The aim is to provide a genuine option for patients and to elevate the economic opportunities for the region.

"It's really important to analyse the products so that they can be reproduced, we can gain evidence from the patient's experience and see how it worked for people compared to what they've been using before," says Grahame Jelley, Chief Medical Officer for THOON.

Central to the drive for evidence-based products is the connection with Suzanne Hall, an award-winning natural skin formulator who heads up the laboratory operations and has learned about rongoā through whānau.

"Growing up immersed in teachings of whānau in rongoā Māori and herbal medicine from different corners of the globe has shaped my journey profoundly," says Suzanne. "It's a privilege to share this knowledge, honouring the wisdom passed down through generations."

"This is a multi-pronged approach. It's firstly to offer rongoā Māori alternatives to patients, and also the idea of creating micro-businesses to produce rongoā ingredients across the region, creating economic pathways for hapū and whānau to participate in."

Bringing together te ao Māori approaches with mainstream treatments in a clinical setting is more than offering a balm alongside a prescription, however.

"One of our aspirations is to put whitiwhiti kōrero, a karakia and perhaps a waiata as an accompaniment to the physical product because we believe that that is so important," says Grahame.

"The value of the consultation process in the hauora Māori context is the value of the whakawhanaungatanga at the beginning and the ability to share whakapapa and understand the wairua of the individual.

"Likewise, with our programme we start talking about the use of karakia and waiata with the whole whānau coming to consult and you can see the potential for three different aspects of rongoā Māori: the whitiwhiti kōrero, the conversation, the spiritual benefit of a waiata and deliberation of the spirit, and then the natural medication."

Head of Mātauranga Māori, Hauora Māori Services, Kingi Kiriona says this programme shows exciting potential to see te ao Māori approaches offered alongside mainstream treatments.