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Turning around infant deaths in Tairāwhiti

Tairāwhiti has for its population size the highest rate of Sudden Unexplained Death in Infants (SUDI) in the country – a statistic Mokopuna Ora Safe Sleep Coordinator Kaniwa Kupenga-Tamarama is determined to turn around. “Although SUDI rates in Tairāwhiti have fallen, it is still occurring within Māori whānau and finding ways that resonate with Māori are part of how we will see this addressed,” says Kaniwa.

She’s working to improve awareness and provide whānau with tools and knowledge to protect their babies from this entirely preventable tragedy.

“Our Māori community in Tairāwhiti continue to be the most affected. We still have some way to go to eradicate SUDI from our whakapapa,” says Kaniwa.

According to the Ministry of Health, SUDI rates for Gisborne-Tairāwhiti currently sit at 2.2 per 1000 births against the national average of 0.7 per 1000 births.

Ways to prevent SUDI include not smoking, breastfeeding, placing baby in a safe sleep space and positioning baby flat on their back to sleep.

One effective tool to reduce SUDI is a local safe sleep innovation, the wahakura, a woven flax basket that creates a safe distance between baby and their parents in bed. Developed in Tairāwhiti, use of the wahakura throughout New Zealand has seen SUDI rates drop by nearly 30%.

Weaving workshops, known as wananga, where māmā or whānau can make their baby a wahakura are run throughout Tairāwhiti by Ngāti Porou Hauora, Hauiti Hauora and Turanga Health services.

Kaniwa says one of the ways she’s working to eradicate SUDI is expanding the use of wahakura. “I want to see wahakura wananga flourish and have not just that whānau of highest need, but everyone in our community knows what a wahakura is and how much of a taonga they are to keeping our pēpi sleeping safely. My job will be done when SUDI is eradicated from our community and whakapapa.”

It’s National Safe Sleep Day on Friday 6 December.

Further information about Safe Sleep Day are on the SUDI National Coordination website or on the Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/MokopunaOra/(external link)

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