Te Pora Thompson: How will we deal with the next pandemic?

By Mana Wikaire-Lewis

Photo: Te Pora Thompson & professor Nigel French.



Hauora leader Te Pora Thompson (Ngāti Hauā) is leading a new initiative aimed at boosting New Zealand’s Covid-19 response and preparing for future disease outbreaks.

The Infectious Disease Research Platform (IDFP) is co-hosted by the Institute of Environmental Science and Research (ESR) and the University of Otago.

Thompson explains the importance of having the initiative as many people look to get on with their lives and moving on from Covid.

“There’s a longstanding gap in our scientific capabilities, especially domestically, so we know the challenges that we faced over the last two-and-a-half years and those that are coming towards us. Stretching out into the future, we need the evidence and research to guide our pathway forward.

Research priorities for infectious diseases will be commissioned.

“What sits behind that is the need to connect with our people, to come alongside them, behind them, to bring those voices in, to convene a taumata mātauranga where we will, in consensus, sit down and work out together what those priorities are.”


 

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Tearing down silos

Looking at the Covid response in the last two years, Thompson says Māori stood up to the plate to take on Covid, looking back at the Spanish Flu of 1918 to help with the pandemic today.

“We can look back at the past two-and-a-half years and know that at the outset there were silo ways of working that weren’t going to work for us. So it required everybody to come together, not just agencies but our iwi, communities, people on the ground coming together to respond to it.”

She rates the response by Māori towards Covid as a “straight ten”.

“I think response outside of that perhaps started off a little lower down the scale, the goal to keep it at an overall ten response must be with all of our people coming together going forward.”

Though challenges will arise in her new role, Thompson also sees them as opportunities.

“The opportunity is coming back to connecting with our people but actually scanning the landscape, have a look at what has been done, what worked in the vaccine rollout, getting welfare to our people – let’s have a look at international research, let’s see what worked for them and what will work for us.”