11 Sep 2020

Pacific health leaders unimpressed with police involvement in Covid-19 contact tracing

5:46 am on 11 September 2020

Pacific health leaders say bringing police in to help with contact tracing is a bad look and there are better ways to bolster expertise.

The Mt Roskill Evangelical Fellowship church

Mount Roskill Evangelical Fellowship church. Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

Police are providing advice to the Auckland Regional Public Health Service about contact tracing the Mount Roskill Evangelical Fellowship church cluster.

But Pasifika Medical Association chief executive Debbie Sorensen said she was surprised the police had the time and resources to be involved - and that they shouldn't be

The perception that the police were involved could be intimidating for the community, she said.

The Ministry of Health initially said police would help with community liaison but now says there is a single senior officer doing a one-off exercise behind the scenes.

The officer would not deal directly with the community but would provide advice on how to approach case investigations and contact tracing, a spokesperson said.

Chief executive of Pasifika Futures and Pasifika Medical Association, Debbie Sorenson.

Debbie Sorensen. Photo: Supplied.

But Sorensen said even behind the scenes, it was the wrong approach.

Contact tracing was about building trust, she said.

"I would have thought that, for example, Pacific health professionals might be best at that."

Auckland councillor and former police officer Alf Filipaina said authorities had to be careful not to create the perception that people who needed to be contacted were in trouble.

He would not want to see police knocking on doors or making calls.

He did not have a particular problem with an officer offering advice in the background, saying they could have good techniques for talking to people and getting information.

But they should be Pasifika - like many of those in the cluster - because they would know the best way to approach the community, he said.

RNZ did not get a response to a question about whether the officer was from the Pacific community.

Sorensen said contact tracing teams were already full of very skilled investigators with the know-how to deal specifically with an outbreak and sensitive health matters.

University of Auckland associate dean Collin Tukuitonga said he would also have preferred to see doctors, nurses and public health experts brought in to provide extra expertise.

Health investigating involved a different set of dynamics to police work, he said.

And there was a risk that knowing the police were involved could drive people underground, he said.

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