17 Jul 2020

Why Māori healthcare providers want mobile clinics to become a regular fixture

6:20 pm on 17 July 2020

Mobile clinics have helped drive high Covid-19 testing rates for Māori, and Māori health providers want them to become a regular part of primary health care practice.

Christchurch's mobile testing station for Covid-19 coronavirus at Pak n Save on Moorhouse Ave.

Christchurch's mobile testing station for Covid-19 coronavirus at Pak'nSave on Moorhouse Ave during the alert level 4 lockdown. Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

Fears that Māori communities would be ravaged by Covid-19 like they were during the 1918 influenza pandemic were front of mind for iwi and Māori health providers, who were quick to mobilise to ensure it didn't enter or spread in their communities.

Waikato-Tainui, Ngā Puhi and Ngāti Ruanui were among those iwi who set up mobile clinics to test their people for Covid-19, but also to do routine check-ups, and flu vaccinations.

The clinical director of Taranaki Māori health provider Tui Ora, Bernard Leuthart, said mobile clinics were part of the reason Māori testing rates for Covid-19 had been "excellent" so far.

Rhonda Toki, the clinical lead for the Ngapuhi Covid-19 community based testing centre, agreed that mobile clinics were an effective way to reach their community.

"We found that when we went out there and we were visible in the community, we had a lot of interest, a lot of people turn up.

"We were doing flu vaccinations, and covid screening and I guess people just felt it showed we cared because we were going out to the little rural areas."

See all RNZ coverage of Covid-19

The Ministry of Health (MOH) puts Māori testing rates at over 65 per 1000 - compared to 54 per thousand people for non-Māori.

Toki believed the MOH's calls this week for GPs to test Māori with respiratory conditions would not make much difference to testing rates for Māori in her region.

She said whānau from Te Tai Tokerau were already very proactive at getting tested.

"Their presenting and that's the great thing about it, and so at that presentation, that's when we can reassure them if they don't meet the criteria, that they're good to go, so I think that's been a real positive thing."

Maria Ngawati, who leads the research unit at Hapai te Hauora, said if the government wanted to keep Māori testing rates high, Māori health providers were the ones delivering the best results, and they needed to be better resourced to carry out testing.

She said relying solely on GP practices would not get the job done.

"They may not be the ones who have the specialised skills to deal with Māori whānau and that's when the Māori providers come in, so I think we need to resource them properly and the DHBs and other people that are actually in the decision-making need to step back and get out of the way."

Both Ngapuhi Hauora services and Tui Ora have said they wanted to apply the lessons they learned from their Covid-19 response to tackling other persistent health problems.

Leuthart said they wanted more health services to be taken on the road and into people's homes.

"By taking the service out there, making it a public service and something that's easy to access and at many times, no cost, we find we're getting really good uptake and we think that's something well worth preserving and carrying through."

In 1918, during the influenza pandemic, Māori died at five times the rate of non-Māori - but this time around, the infection rate for Covid-19 for Māori 15 per 100,000 people - less than half that of non-Māori.

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