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Story: Health advocacy and self-help

Health-advocacy and self-help groups assist people with all kinds of diseases and health concerns, from cancer to haemophilia, women’s health to addiction. Advocates promote the rights of health consumers. Some people join self-help groups and share their experiences.

Story by Anne Scott
Main image: People campaigning about hepatitis C

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Health Advocacy

People who are ill or disabled have special needs and rights. Health advocacy means promoting the rights of these people. In 1994 the government established an independent Health and Disability Commissioner to provide a national patient advocacy service.


Since the 19th century there have been a number of non-profit organisations which focus on a particular illness, geographical area or ethnic group. Their interests range from disability and mental health to gender issues, diseases and genetic disorders. Many of the best known ones focus on the health of children. Examples are the Child Cancer Foundation and Plunket.

Their services include arranging social gatherings and camps, funding medical research, providing fieldworkers to help patients with day-to-day needs, and providing free medical services.


Some people get together to manage their own health rather than relying on doctors alone. Alternative health therapies and remedies are forms of self-help which became popular in the 1980s. In the 2000s many people used the internet to find specific information about health issues and diseases.


Advocacy and self-help organisations often seek to change public opinion and government policy. This sometimes involves high-profile campaigns.

In 1987 Women’s Health Action brought the country’s attention to failures in the treatment of cervical cancer at National Women’s Hospital in Auckland. This eventually contributed to more rights and better treatment for all patients.

In the 2000s Plunket and other children’s charities spoke out in support of a law change which meant that parents could no longer use the defence of ‘reasonable force’ if taken to court for harming their children.

How to cite this page:

Anne Scott, 'Health advocacy and self-help', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 20 May 2018)

Story by Anne Scott, published 5 May 2011