Community-led Initiative Applauded But More Attention Is Needed
The Race Relations Commissioner Meng Foon has congratulated a Tairāwhiti trust which led a fundraising effort to boost access to vaccinations in the region.
However, Mr Foon says the situation may point to gaps in the health system which need to be looked at, particularly as it pertains to Māori.
Despite Super Saturday being touted as a major success, the East Coast region of the North Island struggled with turnout and continues to be one of the least vaccinated areas in the country. This led to the Te Aroha Kanarahi Trust setting up a Givealittle page aimed at purchasing their own vaccination van, including staff. At recent count over $123,000 was donated to the effort.
Mr Foon says it is a great initiative.
“It shows what can happen when passionate local people drive programmes and measures to address local issues.”
However, he says it should not have been left just to the community to move with such urgency.
“The problem with some of the Ministry of Health processes is that there is a lot of red tape and it doesn’t appear nimble enough to make quick decisions when needed.”
Mr Foon, who was mayor of Gisborne for 18 years before retiring in 2019, says providers like Ngāti Porou Hauora are doing their best but there is a lot of paperwork and processes to go through before action is seen on the ground.
“I acknowledge East Coast MP Kiri Allan is in discussions with Ngāti Porou Hauora and the DHB to work out what is best for the community, but iwi voices have been vocal from the pandemic outset on the development of an effective vaccine strategy,” Mr Foon says.
He says he hears the frustrations of primary Māori health providers at the coal face.
“This kōrero should have been had months ago.”
Mr Foon says the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples states that indigenous communities, such as Māori, have the right to participate in decisions that affect them, underscoring responsibilities under Te Tiriti o Waitangi.
“At a high level, the right to health care and protection is also fundamental and expressly referred to in a number of legally binding international treaties.”
He also notes that public health experts cited issues with the initial vaccine rollout for Māori, as the booking system relating to age brackets didn’t seem to take into account the lower life expectancies for tangata whenua.
“Since then, the vaccination rates have been on the back-foot however I am hopeful with initiatives like the latest work by groups like Te Aroha Kanarahi Trust and the attention that it brings to communities like this, that we are on a positive trajectory.”
Mr Foon says a whānau-inclusive approach was always going to be important to reach Māori communities who are mobilised and motivated by the collective.
He hopes a vaccine van can provide vaccine access to many of the young people who work across isolated parts of Te Tairāwhiti as well as their whānau.