Ngaruawāhia whānau self-isolating for health of daughter with low immune system

By Heta Gardiner

A Māori whānau in Ngaruawāhia are self-isolating for fear of the coronavirus spreading to their daughter, who has a low immune system and is less likely to fight off the virus. They say the information given by officials, while helpful for the general public, does not give guidance to families in the minority that would struggle to fight off the virus.

Manihera and Moana Forbes and their children have decided not to leave their house and are not allowing any visitors to come to their home.

The reason is that their daughter, Ka'iulani, was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer three years ago and could easily contract the virus as she does not have a strong immune system.

This is the family's decision and was not a result of any instruction from the government. The decision also included Māori Television, but the parents agreed to have this interview with Te Ao Māori News standing on the other side of the gate to their home.

A major concern of the whānau is the lack of information and support when dealing with this virus.

"I found when they address the public or give guidance and advice it's always to the general 'well' public," Moana Forbes says. "And yes, of course, that's the majority but we're part of this population too.

"There's the elderly, there's people that are sick like our daughter Ka'iulani, immuno-suppress people, people with disease, illness, kidney function. It's a huge population and, unfortunately, that's the population that's going to be affected by this the most."

The Ngaruawāhia mother says she is at a loss as to why officials are not assisting these groups.

"So I don't understand why the Ministry of Health aren't addressing that population, or you know addressing the whole population, about the risks of you know if you don't follow self-isolation, if you don't follow what (advice) they're giving," she says.

"You're actually not affecting the 80 per cent of people that are going to recover, you're actually affecting that 20 per cent of people that aren't going to recover. Then that's us, that's our population and I just feel a little bit let down."

Moana says it is not only families in a similar situation to her whānau who could be affected, but also large families and people that live communally like Māori families.

"I think it affects Māori quite a lot because you see in countries like Italy and Iran they work in hapū. They don't have a nucleus family and just revolve around that," she says.

"So they're getting hit. Their death and mortality rate is way higher than any other country and that's because (of) the way they greet each other - they hug, they kiss, they live together, grandparents. So it spreads like wildfire in communities like that, tight-knit communities.

"And I just think you know us as Māori need to be a little more proactive too because we've got kaumātua, kuia, and we live in those kinds of conditions as well," she says.

"So it's about looking after them as well and I think that's where when you're addressing the public you need to think about the whole community."

Moana says it is unfair for some on social media to simply brush off the seriousness of the virus.

"You see flippant comments on Facebook, flippant comments on social media about 'oh it's just the flu'. Yes, you'll probably recover but there's the 20 per cent per cent of the population that won't."        

The whānau say they are hoping to stay in their home and self-isolate for however long it takes until a vaccine for the coronavirus is created.