Govt takes on challenge to improve COVID-19 Māori response

By Jessica Tyson

The Associate Minister of Health Peeni Henare says he and others in parliament are taking on the challenge to improve their COVID-19 Māori response.

“We’ve had this conversation with both John Whaanga, Dr Reid, Dr Bloomfield and my colleagues including the prime minister that this needs to change. It needs to change urgently, not just because of a COVID-19 response but as we look forward to what a post COVID world might look like.”

Henare admits there is a lot more work to be done by the government to be on track with its Māori response to COVID-19.

“We’ve made it a big challenge to find that equity and to be completely honest, we aren’t there,” he says.

When Henare first took on his portfolio as the Associate Minister of Health, he says he and the Minister for Health David Clark understood that equity has always been a challenge for Māori.

“We have a lot of work to do with Māori but we are a long way from being on home base and we are making sure that partnership at least how we see it and Te Tiriti o Waitangi is reached, but that’s the challenge on me.”

He says the contribution by health officials and advisors has been outstanding. One of them is Dr Elana Curtis, who has advised the government to reconsider their stance on a number issues, including Tangihanga.

Henare says he has accepted the challenge from Dr Curtis.

“I see her comments around things like tangihanga and amongst other things and why wouldn’t we go to those kinds of experts whether it be for health or tikanga reasons.”

The Māori response package has supported hard-to-reach and vulnerable whānau during the COVID-19 pandemic including those who live in remote areas, kaumātua and the homeless. 

As part of the Māori response package announced on March 22 Govt-funded $56 million to strengthen the health service to fight COVID-19. The majority, $45 million, went towards Whānau Ora and a tailored health response.