Opinion: Bloomfield’s dismissal of Pacific man's suffering 'jaw dropping'

Barbara Dreaver
Source: 1News

When Covid-positive Tuala Tagaloa Tusani agreed to speak to 1News it was because he knew he could help others.

With Pasifika making up around 74 per cent of the Delta outbreak, community leaders say language barriers and cultural misunderstanding are contributing to the problem.

A businessman and chairman of the Asa Foundation, a charity which works tirelessly in the community helping the vulnerable, Tuala was no stranger to using his voice and actions to support his community.

Little did he know he was going up against a system designed to work against him.

While at the Covid facility in Ellerslie his health and that of his partner Fiona deteriorated.

Over five nights, their sleep was interrupted by fever, breathlessness, vomiting and pain to the point they averaged about two hours of sleep a night.

When things got bad the distressed couple tried for eight hours to get admitted to hospital, but MIQ staff told them to take panadol.

In the end, out of desperation Tuala called for an ambulance himself.  His contacts managed to get his partner one too and they were both admitted to hospital.

The complete lack of care in MIQ when they most needed it left the pair bewildered and upset.

Tuala went public and received calls from other Pacific people who said they had been neglected in the same way. 

But a day later, Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield responded and basically dismissed him. 

“In this case I know that the person was assessed more than once, including by a GP, and I’m glad that the person, you know their health needs were looked after,” he said on live nationwide television.

But that wasn’t true. They hadn’t been. In the eight hours the couple were seriously unwell and begging for an ambulance, Tuala says no doctor had assessed them.

Whether he was told incorrect information or not, Dr Bloomfield’s public takedown of someone with mana to protect a fractured MIQ system is jaw dropping. They would have called an ambulance for you, Ashley.

Tuala is a Samoan high chief, with a Pe’a - a traditional tattoo covering the whole body from the waist to the knee.  It is created with a mallet which drives serrated bone combs into the skin.

It is long, slow and painful and is a true test of courage that can take up to two weeks.  

It takes a warrior to do that and few men in New Zealand have experienced that level of physical trauma.

But Tuala has. So when he says he needs more than a panadol for Covid-19, then he needs more than a bloody panadol.  

This is a man who knows pain – he didn’t want to go to hospital. He needed to.

And in the end he only spoke up because he wanted things to change so no other person would be subjected to the disrespect he’d encountered.

He wasn’t alone. Many Pasifika families have faced abysmal treatment – like not being fed, medical needs being ignored, being taken to MIQ as if it’s a dumping ground. That’s not even addressing the language barriers. 

Its fair to say MIQ Covid facilities, run by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE), were scrambling because of the fast spread of Delta.

But it was the raft of disturbing stories emerging from Pasifika in MIQ that prompted commissioning agency Pasifika Futures to approach MBIE and offer to take over the care of families.

It’s a good solution. The group had already been working with some families there but now their mandate is much wider. It will be a one stop shop for Pasifika.

They will liaise and check on families, get medical help if it’s needed, be able to translate and deliver supplies.

It’s a good ending to a shameful episode.