Whitireia tutor completes first of its kind study into Kiribati health practices

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The theme of this year’s Pacific Language Weeks are all about strengthening our health and wellbeing. In celebration of Kiribati Language Week, we thought what better way to deep dive into the topic of wellness than to talk to our very own Kiribati-born, Pacific Nursing tutor, Teramira Schutz.

Teramira trained as a nurse in Kiribati before migrating to New Zealand with her family in 2006. Although much of her nursing career has been in the New Zealand health sector, Teramira is passionate about keeping the traditional health practices of Kiribati alive in Aotearoa.

Kiribati-born Whitireia Pacific Nursing tutor, Teramira Schutz, completed first of its kind study into Kiribati health practices.

‘Good things come in small packages’ perfectly describes Kiribati – a tropical nation consisting of 33 islands scattered across all four of the world’s hemispheres. Its remote composition means you might hear Kiribati described as the ‘unknown nation of the Pacific’, with only 21 of 33 atolls inhabited.

The isolated nature of Kiribati means over the years nurses have adapted their skills to fulfil a wide range of health demands. I-Kiribati nurses are geared to provide general as well as obstetric nursing to those living in rural islands with limited healthcare recourses. Among nurses are traditional Kiribati healers, Teramira explains; “the rural areas had very limited resources – we didn’t have x-rays or physiotherapists. The healer’s job was to do things like gently massage to heal bones or use medicinal properties of plants to heal skin.”

With a growing population of I-Kiribati living in Aotearoa, Teramira dedicated her PhD study to exploring how I-Kiribati integrate their traditional health practices in New Zealand.

“Statistics say that Pacific people living in New Zealand have poor access to western medicine but no clear reason as to why. I wanted to take a closer look at how I-Kiribati manage their health and understand the relationship between traditional health practices and western healthcare,” Teramira says.

Teramira’s findings suggest I-Kiribati living in New Zealand often use traditional health practices as a first line treatment. For minor health problems you wouldn’t ordinarily seek professional advice for, having these at-home health practices is valuable for I-Kiribati living in host countries to manage their health.

“The health beliefs and practices of I-Kiribati living in New Zealand is understudied. I hope that my learnings will not only help I-Kiribati help integrate their own health practices, but also inform health professionals about Kiribati culture,” Teramira says.

With nine I-Kiribati students graduated from the Bachelor of Pacific Nursing programme in her time tutoring at Whitireia, Teramira is excited to share her findings with her students and enhance the future of Pacific healthcare in Aotearoa.

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