The Whakawhetu Programme in NZ​


The Whakawhetu programme is a SUDI (Sudden Unexpected Death in Infancy) national programme designed for Maori and funded by the Government. In the three districts health boards under the Wellington region, about 31 babies reportedly died of SUDI between 2008 – 2012. This transcends to the fact that one baby is lost every six months or a total of  six baby deaths a year. The statistics showed that 71% of these deaths were Maori while a high number of the deaths occurred in the Hult Valley District Board.

Why The Whakawhetu Programme?

  • Smoking among Maori women became predominant thereby affecting pregnancies
  • Maori had a high percentage of SUDI deaths in new Zealand (About 60%)
  • Prevention of bed sharing for mothers and babies especially for mothers addicted to smoking. Records had it that it increased SUDI rate by 5x.

A model was developed as a guide to parents and guardians to keep their babies safe. It had four messages and was simply called ‘PEPE’. This was the first stage suite resources creation to fully support great parenting in whanau and SUDI prevention. 

The Four Simple Key Messages Developed by the Whakawhetu Initiative For whanau Were:

  • Place : Babies should be placed in their own baby bed
  • Eliminate: Babies should be protected with a smoke-free whanau, whare and waka (Family, House and Car) which means smoking during pregnancy should be eliminated.
  • Position: Babies should be positioned flat on their back to sleep
  • Encourage: Mums should be encouraged to breastfeed

Introduction of the Wahakura

The Wahakura device is the ever first Maori safe sleeping device originally developed in 2006 by Nukutere Weavers Collective in Gisborne. One of the core goals and primary focus of Whakawhetu is the promotion of the Wahakura device. This device has a unique feature of a traditional forbear in the Porakaraka and its similar to a Pre-European structure hung from the rafters.

The device is widely accepted by every whanau Maori since it is believed to keep their babies safe while sleeping. It has also been proved to be a super vessel effective for conveying ante natal messages. The manufacturing process requires time and expertise which only skilled and experienced Maori weavers possess. This has affected the demand and supply curve of the Wahakura amongst whanau Maori.


Whakawhetu Safe Sleep Day (Friday 5, December, 2015)

December 5, 2015 was a remarkable day as New Zealand’s national SUDI prevention organization Whakawhetu held a national campaign. It was mainly focused on the promotion of safe sleep practices among Maori babies.

The Highlights of the campaign included

  • The core goal of numerous Wahakuras as possible. This was achieved in partnership with Te Wananga o Aotearoa (TWoA) a national association of Weavers. 
  • Seminars were held in a bid to protect Mokopuna at Manukau, it was focused on whanaus and community workers were genuinely concerned about the Maori SUDI course.  The seminar was declared open by Green Party MP Marama Davidson and great keynote speeches from SUDI professionals like Professor Ed Mitchell, Dr Adrian Trenholme and Dr David Tipene.


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