Covid-19: Māori health providers miss out on ‘masks for whānau’

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Some of the biggest Māori health providers in Auckland and Taranaki are “frustrated” they didn’t receive any of the one million masks health officials promised for “vulnerable whānau”, but the Ministry of Health has said they’ve been distributed through other channels.

A man wears a mask during level 2 in Wellington, 15 February 20201.

The Ministry of Health now says one million masks were never intended for Māori health providers. (file pic) Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

On Monday, an email was sent to Māori health providers from the Ministry of Health’s deputy director-general of Māori Health John Whaanga which said the masks would be distributed the following day to help people protect themselves from Covid-19.

Ngāti Ruanui runs the largest Māori health provider in Taranaki, where people are anxiously waiting to find out if there could be community cases of Covid-19 from the infected Papatoetoe family who visited over Waitangi weekend.

Iwi trust manager Rachael Rae said while the iwi had their own reserves of masks purchased during the last lockdown, she was “frustrated” that this latest influx was not being offered to them.

“We’ve had absolutely none, nothing has been received.

“[I’m] very annoyed that our whānau have to wait, or that they’re bottom of the barrel.”

Chief executive of Te Waipareira Trust, a Māori social service provider which does the majority of Covid-19 testing in West Auckland, John Tamihere, was sceptical that one million masks had been given out.

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Tamihere, who is also chief of staff for the Māori Party, said: “If it is true, it hasn’t come anywhere near the Māori population.

“I think people in the Ministry of Health should just settle down… because they try and build up confidence in themselves and really they should just stick to the truth.

“We’re very able now to start looking after a to-Māori, by-Māori, for-Māori solution and that works really well for us and it’s efficient, it’s cost-effective,” Tamihere said.

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John Tamihere: “If it [the distribution of masks] is true, it hasn’t come anywhere near the Māori population.” Photo: RNZ

Late yesterday, one of his staff did get a call from the Waitematā District Health Board offering masks.

Māori Party co-leader Debbie Ngārewa-Packer, who also holds a leadership role within Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Ruanui, said it appeared Māori organisations were being “missed from the supply chain” which made it difficult for them to “ensure that resources are getting to where they are most in need”.

Supply aimed at foodbanks – ministry

However, the Ministry of Health said the one million masks were never intended for Māori health providers.

In a statement, a spokesperson said the masks were given to the Ministry of Social Development to be distributed through the New Zealand Foodbank Network, with 30,000 provided to Taranaki food banks, 770,000 distributed to Auckland foodbanks, and 200,000 being kept in reserve for contingency supply.

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They said a further 61,600 had now been released to 14 Māori organisations in Auckland, which was being “co-ordinated and facilitated with the local DHBS”.

Te Hā Oranga, a health provider run by Auckland iwi Ngāti Whātua, has been mobilising during the level 3 lockdown which includes assisting police at the checkpoints on the borders of Tāmaki Makaurau.

Its chief executive Boyd Broughton said they were not being treated like partners.

“There’s still an inadequate sharing of authority, in terms of the borders. We don’t have the authority to approve or decline exemptions for whānau and businesses wanting to get through the borders.”

He said they had also called for the borders to be in a different place because there were side roads people were using to get around the checkpoints, but this had been ignored.

“They [police] are working with us [but] there’s still heaps of room for improvement, there always is.”

He wanted the National Pandemic Response Group, Te Rōpū Whakakaupapa Urutā, to be given a bigger role in the government’s Covid-19 response communications.

“It’s really disappointing that they’re not up on that stage with our Ministry of Health giving the advice… and translating some of the advice into meaningful words for our whānau in terms of making sure we lower their levels of anxiety, making sure that we have the appropriate messages for our whānau.”

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Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said the Ministry of Social Development was working with Māori health providers and community organisations in Auckland to identify what additional financial support they needed.

“When we’re responding to an event like this I think a lot of organisations find themselves pushed to their absolute limit, particularly those working in the health sector and so I want to thank them for working around the clock as many are at the moment to meet that need, and that extends to organisations who are helping those in need as well.”

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