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Healthcare inequity could hide another COVID-19 outbreak in NZ

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Not peer-reviewed: This work has not been reviewed and scrutinised by independent experts. If you are reporting on research that has yet to go through peer-review (eg. conference abstracts and pre-publication journal articles) be aware that the findings can change during the peer review process.

Simulation/modelling: This type of study uses a computer simulation or mathematical model to predict an outcome. The original values put into the model may have come from real-world measurements (eg: past spread of a disease used to model its future spread).

Te Pūnaha Matatini researchers have modelled how COVID-19 could spread through different groups in the New Zealand population. The study, which has not yet been formally peer-reviewed, finds that Māori and Pacific communities may be at heightened risk due to inequities in health and healthcare access. They say it tracks with Singapore's experience, where a second outbreak has emerged in the migrant worker community, due to crowded housing and lack of access to primary healthcare or sick leave. The researchers say the evidence suggests urban Pacific communities are likely to be at high risk, as well as remote communities, including rural Māori communities. The study also looked at age groups, finding that an increase in contact rates among children as they go back to school is unlikely to significantly increase the number of cases, unless it also increases contact among adults as they interact with the school.

Organisation/s: Te Pūnaha Matatini

Funder: N/A


Expert Reaction

These comments have been collated by the Science Media Centre to provide a variety of expert perspectives on this issue. Feel free to use these quotes in your stories. Views expressed are the personal opinions of the experts named. They do not represent the views of the SMC or any other organisation unless specifically stated.

Professor Denise Wilson, Taupua Waiora Māori Health Research Centre, Auckland University of Technology

“Te Pūnaha Matatini modelling serves as a timely warning that in responding to COVID-19 Māori are at risk of worsening inequities. Māori already experience disproportionate health and social inequities compared to other groups of people within Aotearoa. The economic impacts of COVID-19 threaten to make inequities in health and healthcare access worse for Māori. 

“What is known is factors like stress, poverty, housing quality and mental health are all associated with ill-health and worsening chronic disease in ‘good times’. Further, childhood poverty has life-long health consequences for children – many tamariki Māori and their whānau already live in conditions of deprivation, and the aftermath of COVID-19 will impact tamariki. 

“In the long-term, having timely access to the healthcare Māori need and having access to the appropriate treatment is crucial to prevent deterioration in the inequities that already exist for Māori. However, racism is a recognised barrier to Māori accessing healthcare. Also, income, quality of food and food and housing security are all factors that contribute to health. 

“Government and health services need to continually be mindful of these risks, which have long-term health and economic impacts for Aotearoa. It would be positive to see the government continuing to work with Iwi and Māori communities to ensure Māori health needs are recognised and met. Sustaining the high-trust environment that has seen Iwi and Māori communities identifying and responding effectively to the needs of whānau within their communities with government support becomes critical."

Last updated: 15 May 2020 1:48pm
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