5 Apr 2022

Expert backs call for investment in Pacific health services and housing

8:50 am on 5 April 2022

A call for serious investment into Pacific health services and housing has been echoed by an epidemiologist.

Professor Michael Baker said healthy homes reduce the risks of poor health outcomes.

He has been working with Otago University's 'He Kainga Oranga/Housing and Health Research Programme' for more than 20 years.

Last week The Fono chief executive Tevita Funaki called for the government to pour investment into Pacific health providers as they were being pushed to their limits in the current Covid-19 outbreak.

University of Otago epidemiologist Professor Michael Baker

University of Otago epidemiologist Professor Michael Baker Photo: University of Otago, Wellington / Luke Pilkinton-Ching​

"In particular around the Auckland providers. We are looking at a total investment of around over $200 million into core capabilities, including infrastructure support and also investment into the workforce," Funaki said.

Current social inequalities Pacific communities face are unacceptable, especially because Covid-19 exploits disadvantage, Professor Baker said.

"Good quality housing is in some ways the best vaccine, you know if you want to strengthen families and protect them not just from infectious diseases but many other threats, stable affordable housing is one of those key determinant," Professor Baker said.

Sharing confined, closed and crowded indoor environments is how the virus spreads, he said.

The Otago University Department of Public Health expert said Maori, Pasifika and people living in low income communities suffer under multiple forms of disadvantage, putting up with endemic infections like pneumonia, skin infections, meningitis and rheumatic fever for decades.

"So those same inequalities just recur as soon as you get a pandemic disease and the gradient is very similar. So we really need to address those determinants that have locked us into those really unacceptable social inequalities," Professor Baker said.

Existential threats like poor housing and ventilation must be addressed to change the decades long cycle of inequality, he said.