Māori health leaders disappointed in Govt's response to support Māori during COVID-19

By Jessica Tyson

An expert group of Māori health leaders, Te Rōpū Whakakaupapa Urutā, does not believe the government’s COVID-19 action plan goes far enough to keep Māori safe.

The plan announced on March 22 included $56 million to be fully committed to Māori communities.

Member of Te Rōpū Whakakaupapa Urutā, clinical director and general practitioner Dr Rawiri Jansen says the rōpū is disappointed with the plan and its lack of details on how the Ministry of Health, DHB’s and mainstream health providers will ensure equitable healthcare for Māori during the COVID-19 reponse and recovery.

“We think that it provides real high-level aspirational statements but it actually needs to offer clear tangible actions that will be undertaken by the health system to address equity.”

Dr Jansen says there’s no scope or time frame for the plan, no clear actions, no clear milestones and no plan to monitor progress or ensure accountability.

“There’s no acknowledgment that Māori health providers, hapū and iwi are integral in the role that they play in managing COVID.”

The majority of the Māori response package, $45 million, went to support Whānau Ora, and a tailored health response for communities during lockdown.

But Dr Jansen says there is still a concern about whether or not more financial support will come.

“We do have a concern that the government will now expect all Māori providers to do all of the mahi required without any further support. So there is some more work to do there.”

More to be be done

Deputy director-general of Māori Health at the Ministry of Health, John Whaanga, agrees there could be a lot more done to support Māori.

He says there is a strong focus across everything the ministry is doing for COVID-19 to focus on Māori, with strong acknowledgment of the health disadvantages among Māori.

“We have over 200 Māori health organisations around the country and there are over 100 of them that we’re supporting, he says.

“That is to support them to be able to re-gear themselves with COVID-19 but also to particular services to our priority groups, those with chronic illnesses."

He says there is also work underway related to vaccinations, expanding community-based testing and mental health for Māori.

“This is the initial plan and a plan we expect to build on,” he says.

Te Rōpū Whakakaupapa Urutā hopes the future plan will acknowledge the effort and commitment that has been shown by Māori health providers and iwi to date.

“The fact that the plan is a living document means that there is still an opportunity for the Ministry of Health to deliver on its high-level aspirations."

But Dr Jansen says it will have to happen quickly, in partnership with Māori stakeholders including iwi, health experts and groups that are often overlooked.