The Ministry of Health – Manatū Hauora is today releasing a report that seeks to better understand how the Government’s COVID-19 response affected Māori, Pacific Peoples and disabled people.

The research by Te Rau Ora Te Rau Ora was based on interviews with 43 whānau, community stakeholders and mainstream health providers, eight of whom had a disability or looked after someone who did. 

At the time of the research, there had been three waves of COVID-19 in New Zealand:

  • Wave 1 - March 2020 - ‘COVID-19’
  • Wave 2 - August 2021 - ‘Delta’
  • Wave 3 - January 2022 - ‘Omicron’

The research is relevant to all 3 waves.

Those interviewed said the Government’s COVID-19 response created inequities for Māori, Pasifika and disabled people. They also believed that in several areas, such as the vaccination strategy, equity was actively discarded as an objective.

Manatū Hauora acknowledges the concerns they have raised and thanks whānau for their willingness to share their experiences.

In response to the report, Te Rau Ora has made 10 recommendations for improving the health response to COVID-19, covering areas including decision-making, planning, communications, and data collection.

Since the start of the pandemic in February 2020, the Government’s response to COVID-19 has been continually reviewed and refined as new evidence has emerged and experiences are learnt from. We have built on experience from the Delta and Omicron outbreaks and have now adopted a wide range of equity-first approaches in the COVID-19 response.

These insights will be used to reduce inequities associated with any future pandemics. The Te Rau Ora research will also be provided to the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Government’s COVID-19 response.

Since the research was undertaken, the health sector has been reformed to begin to address historic systemic inequities in health outcomes for priority populations. This involved the establishment of Te Aka Whai Ora – the Māori Health Authority which is responsible for ensuring the health system delivers equitable outcomes for Māori. Whaikaha – the Ministry of Disabled People was set up work in partnership to transform the disability support system. It also has a cross government stewardship role to provide guidance on other government agencies work with the disability community.

Engaging with and capturing the voice of our Te Tiriti o Waitangi partners and priority populations is integral to improving the Government’s response to COVID-19, other communicable diseases and future pandemics.

While the review captured a relatively small number of voices concentrated in Tāmaki Makaurau, its themes reflect insights gathered from other reviews into our equity response to COVID-19 including:

  • the Ministry’s Equity Impact Assessment on the Omicron Outbreak
  • the Dovetail Delta Response Rapid Review,
  • the Human Rights Commission Inquiry into the Support of Disabled People and Whānau during Omicron, and
  • the Waitangi Tribunal’s Haumaru report into COVID-19.

Together, these reviews provide a clear focus for health agencies which continue to prioritise investment towards services and a workforce that meets the needs of priority communities while targeting vaccine uptake and therapeutics to those most at risk of poor health outcomes.

The Te Rau Ora report was completed in July and has since been considered by the four health agencies Manatū Hauora, Te Whatu Ora, Te Aka Whai Ora and Whaikaha.

The sector reforms and subsequent staff movements unfortunately delayed the release of this research.

Te Rau Ora Equity Review