A news item by Māni Dunlop, Māori News Director, has been posted on the RNZ website under the heading Government urged to put Māori at forefront of Covid-19 planning.
“Forefront” means the position of greatest importance or prominence.
One implication to be drawn from the headline, therefore. is that Māori should be promoted to take over from whomsoever now is heading the Covid-19 planning response team.
Another is that the planners should make Māori people their top priority.
Perhaps the headline writer misconstrued what the reporter was told. Let’s see.
According to the report beneath the headline, RNZ had uncovered some Māori health professionals who were saying the government’s response to Covid-19 has serious shortfalls and blindspots for Māori.
The same doubtless could be said of other ethnic groups in this country – but only one group, so far as we know, is being privileged with race-targeted funding.
The Ministry of Health has made $56m available to Māori communities to respond to Covid-19, $30m of it specifically for health, $470,000 for iwi response plans through Te Arawhiti, and $10m through Te Puni Kōkiri for outreach to Māori communities.
The remaining $15m is for Whānau Ora, which the Minister for Whānau Ora, Peeni Henare, said had already been distributed to the Whānau Ora commissioning agencies.
More than 100,000 care packages are being co-ordinated by commissioning agencies, 11,300 of these already delivered by last Friday and 30,000 expected to be delivered within a day or so.
However Te Rōpū Whakakaupapa Urutā, National Māori Pandemic Response Group, which consists of a range of Māori health professionals, maintain Māori are still an after-thought in the government’s response.
Associate professor Dr Elana Curtis, from the University of Auckland, said although the government had acted quickly, it had taken a one size fits all approach.
“And that really fails to recognise our cultural beliefs, our indigenous rights, our Treaty rights, [it’s] just a lived reality of many whānau who are trying to cope with this pandemic.”
Ah. The race card is being played and “the Treaty” has been trundled out.
Everybody is trying to cope with the epidemic and many groups could fret that they are an after-thought – but not only can claim indigenous rights.
Does this entitle “indigenous” people to a privileged position at the policy-making level?
Yes, says Curtis.
She has urged the government to have Māori at the forefront of their planning – which appeared to not have been the case so far.
Hmm. Does this mean Māori should be given the most important spots on the planning team or does it mean the wellbeing of Māori should be the most important consideration among health planners?
It’s not clear – but Curtis went on to say:
“Rather than what we are doing now which is essentially scrambling, scrambling to develop palliative resources, scrambling to think about what are the essential services for Māori, things like modified tangihanga processes, food security, what role traditional kai gathering can have – how do we help our whānau who are living in really vulnerable condition because of housing, over crowding, homelessness all of these things we could of thought about and planned for and intervened quickly.”
At much the same time as Curtis was clamouring for one ethnic group to be elevated in the government’s considerations, two Māori doctors had walked off the job at a Covid-19 testing clinic in west Auckland and were alleging that urban Māori leader John Tamihere had told his staff to lie in order to meet the criteria to get tested.
Tamihere is the chief executive of the Waipareira Trust, which opened a drive-through testing clinic in Henderson on Monday last week.
But within a few days – according to RNZ – lead clinician Dr Renee Yearsley and another doctor (who prefers to be unnamed) had quit.
Dr Yearsley said Tamihere had approached her on Tuesday last week with instructions to test Waipareira staff members for Covid-19.
She said she responded that the clinic would screen the staff members but would not test those who did not meet criteria.
“He told me directly, on the Tuesday before, that he would make his staff lie to be able to meet criteria so that they can be tested,” she said.
On Wednesday, Dr Yearsley said she went to the Whānau House clinic to support her colleague, who was on duty.
“That morning, we were approached by John and his management team with information that he was going to have his staff come down to be tested for Covid.
“I explained, as I did the day before, that we could screen his staff but not necessarily test them but he was adamant he wanted them tested.”
Dr Yearsley said a number of Waipareira staff members began arriving in their own cars and her colleague started triaging them.
“She asked them if they did truly meet the symptoms and the criteria and they informed her that they were told by John Tamihere to lie so that they could meet the criteria.
“At that point, her and I met together and decided that it was not a safe environment for us to practice.
“Once we knew what was happening and we confirmed what was happening, we walked out very quickly,” Dr Yearsley said.
Yeardsley claims to have felt very intimidated by the experience of being told to do her job against Ministry of Health guidelines.
She said she felt very uncomfortable knowing that people were saying they had been “told to lie” to try and meet criteria against Ministry of Health guidelines.
Tamihere declined to be interviewed and said it was an employment matter.
The Waitematā District Health Board, which oversees the clinic, similarly declined to comment because the person RNZ had spoken to was not employed by the DHB.
The Ministry of Health said it could not comment on the case because it did not know the full details.
But it did say it did not recommend healthy asymptomatic people get tested for Covid-19.
One constraint on widespread testing is that the global demand for test kits has far surpassed the capabilities of manufacturers for the chemicals needed to process tests.
According to another RNZ report, microbiologists advising the Ministry of Health have acknowledged there is a shortage in the global and New Zealand markets.
There were 44,000 testing kits in the country, enough to last 15 days at the current testing rate.
If the claims about Tamihere and the Waipareira Trust are true, at least he can be credited with putting some Māori – his staff – to the forefront of his planning.