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Maori will die sooner from Influenza pandemic

24 November 2005

Maori will die sooner from Influenza pandemic

Leading Maori health provider Hapai te Hauora says that Maori will suffer more in the event of the flu pandemic.

“During the 1918 pandemic Maori death rates were seven times higher than European,” says Kathrine Clarke, Chief Executive of Hapai te Hauora Tapui said today.

“This is what we know, but it’s also likely that the rates were even higher because many Maori deaths were not recorded.”

Kathrine says that Maori health professionals are extremely concerned about what is being done to prepare Maori communities for the pandemic.

“Even-though there is some planning going on at political and policy levels, we are being left out of the loop. We have Maori experts at every level, and a network of Maori health providers around the country who are accessing our whanau every day. We need to be involved in planning for the pandemic now.”

Waiting for the Pandemic

Why are we so concerned about Maori?

The health profile of Maori is generally poorer. In almost all areas of illness Maori are over-represented.

Maori are more likely to be subject to all the risk factors that means they will be especially vulnerable during the pandemic. This includes: lower incomes, poor housing and education, and lack of access to health services.

The 1918 pandemic devastated our population.

So what would you like to happen?

We’d like to be involved in the planning and consultation now. There are Maori experts at every level of health, and we have Maori health providers on the ground who can access our communities.

We need to get our communities mobilised. Our marae and other gathering places need to be prepared. They need to think about things like safety mechanisms around tangi, and other cultural practices – and how they can prepare our whanau so that we suffer as little sickness and mortality as possible.

What is happening now?

Even though there is some planning taking place, we are being left out of the loop. We need to be integrated into planning and decision making.

The 1918 Pandemic

Maori death rates

By far the most striking feature of the 1918 influenza pandemic in NZ is the massive difference between European and Maori death rates. Maori were seven times more likely than Europeans to die from the flu.

Revised figures tell us that there were 2160 deaths from a population of about 51,000. This yields a death rate of 42.3 per thousand, nearly double the official figure published in 1919, and more than seven times the revised European death rate.

It was also well known that not all Maori deaths were recorded, for a whole range of reasons.

So, the revised estimate is probably still too low event-though it represents 4% of the Maori population of the time.

Dr Peter Buck called the pandemic “the severest setback the race has received since the fighting days on Hongi Hika”.

Why were they so high?

Like most Polynesians, Maori have were more susceptible to respiratory diseases that were brought by the Europeans. As late as 1937 Maori death rates from influenza and pneumonia were four and five times those of Europeans.

Their vulnerability to these diseases was probably because they lived in small isolated settlements. City dwellers built up better immunity because they were exposed more frequently to these minor ailments.

Maori were also more likely to be subject to other risk factors like poor housing, clothing and nutrition.

Source: Black November, The 1918 influenza pandemic in New Zealand. Geoffrey W Rice.


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