20 Mar 2020

Pressure on government to protect Māori in pandemic

1:28 pm on 20 March 2020

Pressure is mounting on the government to make a specific pandemic plan for Māori, who are at increased risk of falling ill.

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Indigenous advocate Tina Ngata. Photo: Supplied

Māori leaders are accusing the government of not engaging with them over plans to protect Māori communities from Covid-19.

Ngāti Ruanui iwi chair and Māori Party candidate Debbie Ngarewa-Packer said government officials were ignoring them.

"There has been no connect, no reaching out, no phone call - they seem to have all lost our number," she said.

"There has been no way for them to share with us not only what their plan is, but how what we are doing on the ground fits in with what they are doing - how we work together.

"No matter which way you look, we are extremely vulnerable."

Ngarewa-Packer said their iwi health organisation, which serves 50 percent of Taranaki, was working overtime to support whānau and formulate a response.

She said other government agencies were focusing on their responses, and none of them had offered advice about how they would respond to Māori needs.

No info tailored to Māori communities

Indigenous advocate Tina Ngata has made the decision to self-isolate with her whānau at their Wharekāhika home in East Cape.

Her daughters have compromised immune systems, but she said the relevant information for them was scant.

"Our information that is out there on what it means to immuno-compromised could be better," she said.

"I don't know that many whānau realise that that applies to the vast majority of Māori who would have asthma or respiratory disease, or diabetes issues."

Ngata said health care on the Cape is limited and there are higher rates of people there who don't have access to the internet, to get information.

If Covid-19 rips through the area - she feared it could devastate the high Māori population, because she is not aware of a response plan tailored to them.

"I have to say that I haven't seen anything targeted for Māori myself.

"Given the susceptibility and the vulnerability of our communities, I don't think that the government is considering who is most vulnerable here and tailoring their response accordingly."

She said she had seen some information on the Te Puni Kōkiri website about Covid 19 but the directive was not strong enough and more was needed.

Calls for Māori pandemic response

There is growing unease that the government has not revealed a pandemic response tailored to Māori.

During the influenza pandemic in 1918, Māori communities were hit particularly hard.

This week, the Iwi Chairs Forum launched a National Māori Pandemic Response Group to address the shortfall in government planning.

Spokesman Mike Smith said iwi have proven to have strong responses to natural disasters before and it makes no sense to leave them out.

"Some of our iwi have huge capacity to respond to these types of problems but that needs to be coordinated with the government's efforts," he said.

"So far there has been a bit of a deafening silence from the Crown and they are not engaging with the iwi sector as of yet."

Mr Smith said if the Ministry of Health was in planning mode, then iwi leaders should be involved in that.

Ministry of Health Deputy-Director General of Māori Health John Whaanga said he is working with Māori health providers, experts and iwi.

He said the priority was to establish a strong public health response, but work is underway to develop strategies for Māori, and providers were being sent email updates.

"What my group is doing is looking across those [workstreams] to say where do we need to make sure we have got a strong strategy and strong response for Māori," he said.

"There will be specific things that we are doing that recognise the unique circumstances of Māori but they will also be tied in to what we are doing more generally to keep New Zealanders safe and well."

The is a Covid 19 Māori Reference Group and considerations are being made about reo Māori resources and phone health services for Māori, he said.

Following the interview with RNZ, Mr Whaanga said he spoke to Mike Smith, and invited three members of the iwi forum onto the Māori Reference Group.

He conceded the Ministry could improve its communication with iwi providers.

Next week, the government expects to reveal Covid 19 response strategies specific to Māori, however there will not be a stand-alone plan for Māori.

  • If you have symptoms of the coronavirus, call the NZ Covid-19 Healthline on 0800 358 5453 (+64 9 358 5453 for international SIMs)

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