Another merging of scientific with indigenous medicine, once again lacking specificity

August 15, 2023 • 11:30 am

Much as I’d like to believe otherwise, I see this as a “virtue-signaling” collaboration on the part of Roche, which aims to meld not just Māori medicinal practices with modern medicine, but also Māori “values”. I’m not sure what kind of “values” differ between Māori and so-called “Western” medicine because both presumably value “getting well” and “not getting sick” as the goals of healcare.

Click below to read the article from the New Zealand Herald:

Excerpts (I’m on a ship, and since the newspaper was too lazy to translate the Māori words into English, I don’t feel obliged to, either):

Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Whātua and global pharmaceutical company Roche Pharmaceuticals have recently set up Tū Kotahi, a new partnership that will see modern medicine meeting traditional Māori values and practices.

The pact calls for investigating novel approaches to disease prevention, treatment, and wellness for descendants of the iwi, hopefully bringing it to other iwi in the future.

The iwi’s co-chair, Dame Naida Glavish, says the “open, honest and frank” pact opens a new chapter in medical innovation and cultural preservation.

“I feel really good about it because Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Whātua will stand in its own mana motuhake and so will Roche. There is a need, of course, to have an understanding between the two in terms of mana motuhake, total sovereignty, coming together with each other.”

There’s been mutual respect from the iwi for Roche understanding the body and physical health, while Roche admires mātauranga Māori in relation to the wellness of hinengaro and wairua, she says.

. . .“[Ngāti Whātua] holds a responsibility, every tribe in this country agrees, to manaaki all manuhiri who are in our tribal rohe. It benefits all in Ngāti Whātua and, in the rohe of Ngāti Whātua, others will benefit.

“We have no problems whatsoever that if Roche can work with Ngāti Whātua, Roche can work with Te Kahu o Taonui [Tai Tokerau tribe collective]. If they can with us, they can with anyone.”

Putting patients first, according to Roche Pharmaceuticals’ new NZ general manager Alex Muelhaupt, involves acknowledging the health disparities experienced by indigenous peoples.

I see no evidence of what kind of merging of the two “health systems” will take place. Instead, it looks as if the responsibility is on Roche to eliminate “health disparities experienced by indigenous peoples.  If there are such disparities, and they’re due to bigotry and not cultural differences, then yes, they must be addressed. But that involves social interventions, not medical ones.

And of course the Māori may have medicinal plants that modern medicine has neglected, and if so, they should be investigated: using the double-blind trials that are the gold standard of testing remedies. 

But Māori “healing” also includes chanting and singing: will Roche also test those practices? And how? Will they do nonsensical chants and songs as a control?

The absence of examples, and the finishing of the piece by an implicit claim that health disparities are caused by bigotry, is what makes me suspicious about this endeavor. If they’d give just ONE example of a possible testing of Māori practices with the aim of incorporating them into modern medicine, I’d feel better. But of course we never see that in these endeavors, and I’m pretty sure why.

Since only 4% of all Kiwis can hold a conversation in Māori, while only 55% of Māori adults can speak some of the language, while only 17% of Kiwis are Māori, I would think that New Zealand’s most widely-read newspaper could to its readers the benefit of translating indigenous words in articles such as the above.  I can’t think of a good reason why not. If they want to effect cultural fusion by teaching Māori words to the non-Māori-speaking populace, which I see as a good form of cultural appropriation, they need to do some translating. That they don’t I see as a form of arrogance, or truckling to the indigenous population

18 thoughts on “Another merging of scientific with indigenous medicine, once again lacking specificity

  1. Maybe the lack of translation is the newspaper’s way of fighting back. They know that very few people will be able to understand the article, so it’s a good way to pretend to be virtuous while actually being part of the resistance.

    Of course, I’m kidding.

  2. I look forward to a similar association document between the Tesla company and Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Whātua. This partnership will aim to explore the insights of Matauranga Maori in regard to electricity and its use in providing the mana for automobiles.

  3. I think this is Hegelian Dialectical synthesis. These words and ideas can be looked up – I’m not making this up – crudely :

    Thesis : western science
    Antithesis : Māori tradition
    Synthesis : this article

    … a contradiction is isolated (Western vs. Māori ). A “Synthesis” is constructed of the two (Aufheben, a simultaneous cancellation and uplifting of the contradiction into a new synthesis). It has been noted that this process is “alchemical”, i.e. mystical, but I don’t have good background on that.

    Marx and Engels took Hegel’s dialectic and did other things with it, which Stalin and others used to get results including widespread famine, death, and misery on enormous populations of people (i.e. societies).

    It takes so long to write out but the literature speaks for itself – a “conspiracy” that is well-documented. This is Marxism.

    If any of that is inaccurate, please point it out. It is hard to believe because that’s what the mile-wide/inch-deep writing is designed to do.

  4. I bet you the actual agreement with Roche is in English alone and that it isn’t based on Maori legal concepts.

    1. More likely, I suspect, there is an English and a Maori version, and the two versions have completely different meanings. Remind you of anything?

    2. That might not be a protection for Roche. The Supreme Court stated that Tikanga Maori (customary Maori beliefs, principles and the practices derived from them) is the first law of NZ in a case which overturned legal precedent.

      Since some of our judges are superior people with an elevated view of themselves as philosopher kings and have shown in other cases their willingness to disregard the stated intentions of legislators and the apparent meaning of the relevant legal texts, I doubt that they will be bound very closely by an English text.

  5. You only need to take a look at Roche’s homepage from New Zealand. This is virtue signalling at its best. Or worst, whichever you prefer.

    At Roche New Zealand we take our commitment to Te Tiriti o Waitangi and equity seriously. We are committed to being part of the solution in improving equity for Māori as well as other priority population groups in Aotearoa.

    We support Te Aka Whai Ora’s whakatauki of ‘e kore tēnei whakaoranga e huri ki tua o aku mokopuna – my grandchildren shall inherit a better place than I inherited’.

    We share in the Government’s vision of Pae Ora – Healthy Futures for all New Zealanders, and we listen with intent on how we can connect and partner for better health outcomes.

    1. Roche should watch out. This sort of performative virtue-signalling could do them a fair bit of damage in the parts of the world that still value reason and evidence. Would you buy a nostrum from a company that publishes woo like this? (And yes, I fear that many shills would).

  6. The odds are they’d do what I’d do, put on a show while doing some real work in the background and then when a great deal of data is made release it.

    I don’t mind using subterfuge and deception to get something done. Many of these plants are well known and studied down here from various sources, no shame in saying that and the effects are known. The thing is limited sources. If these guys need to put on a silly show to get some data only to stab in the back late, I say go for it!

  7. It’s purely a marketing exercise, with the cynical intent of greater penetration into the Maori market. Drug companies do not believe this nonsense, but they do exploit whatever they can.
    I’ve said before my thoughts on the use of word salad as virtue signalling. Remember the “Post-Modern Generator”?
    And talking of word salad, these oiks might consider that using pidgin in such a way might be seen as disrespectful: “Te Tariti o Waitangi” is a native attempt to say “The Treaty of Waitangi” and making fun of the way the natives say things isn’t nice. Yes, my tongue is somewhat back in my cheek.

    1. Yes, I agree this is a marketing strategy. New Zealand- like the US- stand as outliers in allowing direct consumer marketing of pharmaceuticals. This makes their products (and otherwise poor ethics) palatable to a whole lot of consumers, is what they are banking on.

  8. And of course the Māori may have medicinal plants that modern medicine has neglected, and if so, they should be investigated

    Frankly, if Roche’s (et al) botanical surveyors did such an incompetent job of collecting samples back in the heyday of such “bioprospecting” (a.k.a. genetic colonial pillaging) from the 50s into the 60s, that they missed any such prospects, then they (Roche, corporately) deserve to pay the price of having to re-license what they could have got into their libraries decades ago.
    That does raise the question of how stable their compound libraries are. I’m sure their chemists (and engineers of liquid nitrogen storage Dewars) did the best they could in the day.
    Anyone care to suggest odds that Roche – as representatives of “Big Pharma” – have been throwing PhD-support grants to anthropologists in decades since, with conditions to include a section on “traditional medicines” in their fieldwork reports, and send courtesy copies to Big Pharma Lair, Under The Volcano, Above The Shark Tank, Mwua Ha! Ha! Ha! Island.

  9. No amount of pandering will distract Roche from their altermate aim. That is making a profit for it’s shareholders. If this encourages actual science penetrating the mythical and unnecessary as results will MATTER, then I’m for it because nothing else is working. On the other side if it fails, or ambiguous results the whole initiative will be dumped and a signal to others not do the same.

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