Widely acclaimed for his achievements in promoting Māori health, David Tipene-Leach is EIT’s newly appointed Professor of Māori and Indigenous Research.
“Moving out of clinical practice is a huge change and I will miss patient care,” says Professor Tipene-Leach, who, for the last 10 years, was a general medical practitioner with Hauora Heretaunga at Te Taiwhenua o Heretaunga.
“However, the opportunities at EIT are endless.”
Professor Tipene-Leach is Ngāti Kahungunu from Pōrangahau. He is a fluent speaker of te reo Māori and well-versed in tikanga.
As a senior lecturer in Māori health at the University of Auckland’s Medical School from 1987 to 2001, he developed and taught undergraduate and postgraduate studies in Māori health. He also taught for two years at the University of Hawai’I at Mānoa Pacific Basin Medical Officers programme.
His academic research interests over this 13-year period included long term conditions and the prevention of SIDS (cot death).
Keen to return to the community, he moved to Te Tairāwhiti to head the Puhi Kaiti Community Health Centre in Gisborne for Ngāti Porou Hauora.
This move was the catalyst for developing the East Coast Ngāti and Healthy Prevent Diabetes research project with the University of Otago. Later it triggered his pioneering work in preventing Sudden Unexpected Death in Infancy (SUDI) with the development of the wahakura, a woven flax bassinet, and further research around sudden infant death.
The subsequent Safe Sleep programme, which includes the wahakura’s ‘little sister’ – the plastic Pēpi-Pod – has been credited with decreasing infant mortality by 30 percent in the last 6 years. Enabling safe bed-sharing, both are widely used for babies up to six months of age, when the risk of SUDI is greatest.
“This is possibly my best piece of work – taking a hugely disparate health problem (dead babies) and working with weavers and Māori midwives to develop a kaupapa Māori answer to the problem.”
Professor Tipene-Leach has served on the Advisory Committee on Primary Health Care, the Alcohol Advisory Council, the National Child and Youth Mortality Committee, the Health Bay Transitional Primary Health Organisation Board and Hawke’s Bay District Health Board’s Clinical Council.
He was the founding chairman of Te Ora, the Māori Medical Practitioners Association, and, as chairman of He Toa Takitini for the last four years, he led the Heretaunga Tamatea Treaty of Waitangi claim through to last September’s signing of the Deed of Settlement – a resolution that will be worth $125 million to the iwi.
With his partner Dr Sally Abel, Professor Tipene-Leach moved to Hawke’s Bay in 2007 when he took up his Te Taiwhenua o Heretaunga appointment. The couple have worked since on health research contracts, published research papers and attracted awards for contributing to local Māori health.
In 2006, he received the Māori Medical Practitioners’ Mārire Goodall award. In 2015, he was awarded an Honorary Fellowship in the New Zealand College of Public Health Medicine and, a year later, a Distinguished Fellowship of the Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners.
In his EIT role, Professor Tipene-Leach will work with staff and students and collaborating Universities to establish robust research projects pursuing local interests, post-settlement projects in Hawke’s Bay and teach a postgraduate programme in Māori health.