8 Apr 2020

Covid-19: Social media misinformation putting Pacific communities at risk - government

1:41 pm on 8 April 2020

Social media misinformation about Covid-19 is putting Pacific communities in New Zealand at particular risk, government advisors say.

Colin Tukuitonga

Colin Tukuitonga, who leads a government Pacific health advisory group for the Covid-19 response. Photo: Twitter

On Tuesday, the government announced a $17 million package toward building an awareness campaign in Pacific languages, as well as support for health providers.

Associate Health Minister Jenny Salesa identified Pacific communities as being at greater risk of Covid-19 than others, citing larger households living in densely populated areas.

For many, reliable information on how to avoid or tackle the virus is not yet in their native tongue, making them vulnerable to misinformation.

Colin Tukuitonga, who leads a government Pacific health advisory group for the Covid-19 response, said there was an overabundance of misinformation that posed a problem for the whole community.

"There's too much misinformation and not enough of the credible, reliable information for people and this is a particular issue for the Pacific communities."

  • If you have symptoms of the coronavirus, call the NZ Covid-19 Healthline on 0800 358 5453 (+64 9 358 5453 for international SIMs) or call your GP - don't show up at a medical centre

Dr Tukuitonga said Pacific people in New Zealand were already feeling threatened by Covid-19, with many in crowded homes and with underlying health issues. He said these communities had been targeted by people peddling fraudulent cures for Covid-19.

Tokelauan church minister Reverend Tui Sopoaga is already doing his part to help with health messaging for Pacific communities, having moved his Porirua-based sermons online during lockdown.

He livestreams services in both Tokelauan and English, sometimes using the platform to share official government advice.

"Every time I do my evening devotions, I always report what the government is telling us and also the health professionals. And I always remind them of what we need to do in order to keep us safe."

Rev Sopoaga said without physical church gatherings they were short of cash however, and would welcome government support.

A South Auckland GP, Api Talemaitoga, said Pacific health providers also needed support to move more consultations online.

Dr Talemaitoga, who has advised the government's response team, said providers were also short staffed because the government lockdown meant they had to make individual visits to elderly and at-risk patients.

Advisory group lead Dr Tukuitonga said they were now working on bringing in more Pacific health workers to address the shortfall.

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