Has the COVID-19 Māori Response Action Plan come too late?

updated By Aroha Mane

The Ministry of Health released its COVID-19 Māori Response Action Plan last Thursday, almost four weeks after we entered into Alert-Level 4. But has it come soon enough? Te Rōpū Whakakaupapa Urutā (National Māori Pandemic Group) a group of Māori Health practitioners feels the Government is dragging its feet.

In a letter dated 1 April, Te Rōpū Urutā specifically addressed the critical collection of ethnicity data to understand the patterning and impacts of COVID-19. They called on the Ministry of Health (MoH0 to monitor access to testing, treatment, and healthcare, as well as COVID-19 outcomes by ethnicity. They also raised concerns around tikanga and tangihanga. They questioned how Māori could carry on their cultural practices safely and have continued access to non-COVID-19 related healthcare.

Dr David Jansen says, "I'm a bit unsure about this. We, the National Māori Pandemic Group say that the Ministry of Health has been slow in creating a plan to deal with COVID-19. So we started this group, because of our extreme concerns for Māori. We were concerned that the concerns of our people and communities would not be taken seriously."

However, Dr David Jansen acknowledges that MoH has at least made a start, "We think it provides real high aspirational statements, but it actually needs to offer clear tangible actions."

Furthermore, he says the plan doesn't clarify the following:

  • There is no scope or timeframe for the plan
  • There are no clear actions planned
  • There are no clear objectives planned
  • There is no clear path to measure progress and be accountable
  • There is no acknowledgement of Māori health providers, hapū and iwi and the integral role that they have played to date
  • There is no recognition that maintaining BAU healthcare is vital for Māori

Te Rōpū Urutā issued a series of recommendations in response to the plan. Some of which include, making healthcare cheaper, increasing internet access and allowing funeral directors to implement tikanga and kawa Māori according to scientific evidence. While it is unknown if the recommendations will be implemented by the MoH, the Government has been working to increase internet access in rural areas. The project, named Rural Broadband Initiative Phase 2 (RBI2) should be finished by 2022.

Deputy Director-General Māori Health John Whaanga is confident in the MoH plan. He says the plan is focused on providing information and programmes that can help prevent the spread of COVID-19 amongst Māori communities. He also believes the plan will mitigate any issues and challenges that COVID-19 presents for whānau Māori. It sets out a suite of actions, many of which are already underway:

  • The Ministry is working with 132 Māori health providers throughout the country
  • 79 Community-Based Assessment Centres have been set up in our communities
  • Whānau Ora agencies have delivered over 86,000 care and hygiene packages, with 40,000 more on their way
  • Nearly 40,000 flu jabs have been provided to Māori, across DHBs, providers, and pharmacies; and
  • A social media campaign to provide public health and social sector support has reached 350,000 so far.

Whaanga says the delay in creating their response plan was due to the need to integrate it with the national plan. 

He also said the Ministry is working on doing more, including their work with Whānau Ora and Māori health providers.