24 Nov 2021

Covid-19: Pacific health providers take part in trial to lead care for self-isolating families

6:00 am on 24 November 2021

Some Pacific health providers are finally taking the lead in the caring of people with Covid-19 self-isolating in Auckland.

South Seas Health chief executive Lemalu Silao Vaisola-Sefo at Otara's vaccination centre

Chief executive Lemalu Silao Vaisola-Sefo Photo: RNZ / Rowan Quinn

Until now, Pacific people with Covid-19 have been initially contacted by the Ministry of Health or DHBs before being referred on.

Pacific health teams have been frustrated at having to take a back seat, saying they know how to best help Pasifika Aucklanders with Covid-19.

Now a small pilot has begun to look at changing that.

South Seas Healthcare is first up, taking the lead with two families this week.

Chief executive Lemalu Silao Vaisola-Sefo said they would contact people as soon as they tested positive and then remain in touch, making sure they had all they needed including food, housing, and other welfare needs.

His teams had taken a lead role in caring for and containing one of the largest clusters of this outbreak - the Assembly of God cluster - but that was only after they were given the go-ahead by health authorities.

It was important that it was Pacific teams making contact from the start with people self-isolating, he said.

Speaking the same language or having a cultural understanding helped make sure people understood what they needed to do to keep safe and how they could get help, he said.

At the moment, most families with Covid-19 were initially called by a contact tracer who could be anywhere in the country.

Vaisola-Sefo said his teams would ideally visit families in person, but at the very least would be phoning from Auckland.

That was better than getting a call from someone in Christchurch who had no idea was happening in South Auckland, he said.

"That local knowledge, the cultural expertise and experience, that's something that's important," he said.

Earlier this week, a Pasifika man told RNZ about his family of seven's struggled with self isolation. He said he had much better support from the Pacific healthcare team The Fono than government health and welfare agencies

"Man, they're awesome. They assign you with a person that takes care of your family and she is only a text away so if we need anything urgently, she'll get organised and be here within an hour," he said.

The Pacific teams should be given the lead because they know their communities and cultures, he said

Pacific incident controller for Auckland's three district health boards Markerita Poutasi said the trial was about handing the reins to frontline Pacific teams.

She defended the small scale of the pilot.

"You really need to test your systems and your referral processes so that you can then go to scale," she said.

Vaisola-Sefo said his team expected to take on more cases by the end of the week and could eventually look after 400 or more as they did for the Assembly of God cluster.

The Fono will also take part in the trial this week.

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