Rawiri Taonui's nightmare - a 'white' Christmas with 6000 Māori Covid cases

By Rukuwai Tipene-Allen

The newly invented Māori Health Authority is supposed to fix inequities in the system.

But, if a contracted health supplier like Whānau Ora can't winkle detailed data about North Island unvaccinated people out of the Ministry of Health, how easily will the Māori Health Authority fare when it comes to equitable health outcomes for Māori?

The authority is being set up to align with Health NZ. Both organisations will sit under the Ministry of Health. However, given Whānau Ora's latest data release woes, is the Māori Health Authority going to experience the same push back in the name of mana and rangatiratanga.

Director-general Dr Ashley Bloomfield said the terminology was in reference to rangatiratanga because some of the iwi didn't want their data shared. The ministry also maintains that much of the data has been released. 

Te Ao Marama asked him: "Dr Bloomfield, the Whānau Ora data stuff just got a bit messy there for a while, didn't it? So is this what we're going to see when there's a Māori Health Authority. Does it still have to go to the Ministry of Health for data, still have to go through the Ministry of Health systems? Are we just seeing what's probably going to happen later on down the track?"

In response, he said: "On the data sharing, that is now happening with the Whānau Ora collective, and which had already happened before there was any court action."

The Māori Party says that it's not good enough, with co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer calling the system "racist as f***". The party says a devolution of power needs to happen and Māori need to be resourced to protect themselves. 

What modelling?

And it's not just Māori data that is at the centre of the debate. Researcher Rawiri Taonui is predicting 6000 Māori cases by Christmas. He says that's concerning. 

Modelling is a key tool used by the government in decision-making but it seems Māori don't feature in the government's modelling data. When asked about Taonui's modelling, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Covid Response Minister Chris Hipkins hadn't seen it. 

We asked last week: "On that modelling, were Māori case numbers taken into consideration - how many Māori cases you’ll probably see?" to which the director-general replied: "Yes, so the modelling doesn’t look at what the proportion might be by ethnicity. What I can say is every morning at 9 o’clock when we get on the call with ARPHS, they give us the case numbers and the very next thing they give us is the ethnicity breakdown, so that we’ve got a really good picture of where the burden is falling, and that then informs, of course, what we do in response."

So, not featured in the modelling but, with Māori being the highest number of cases by ethnicity for over 40 days, Māori are a definite feature in the cases. 

Hipkins told media today that "one of the challenges around Māori is that they will often be living in close-knit communities., where there will be a concentration of unvaccinated people together. " he said. "That makes it very difficult to model."

Te Ao Marama asked for clarification as to whether he had seen it, whether there was any modelling done looking at effects on Māori or if it was too hard. The minister simply said he would have to get back to us on it as he couldn't recall. 

If the modelling is anything to go by, Christmas may be bleak for Māori