Minister: Covid vaccine disparities evidence health system not working for Māori

Source: 1News

Health Minister Andrew Little says the country only has to look at disparities in the Covid-19 vaccination rollout to see that the current health system doesn’t work for Māori.

On Wednesday, the Pae Ora (Healthy Futures) Bill was introduced in Parliament. The proposed law provides the framework for the creation of Health New Zealand and the Māori Health Authority, the two entities that are expected to replace the country’s current DHBs .

The national organisation, Health New Zealand, will have four regional divisions and will run hospitals and commission primary and community health services.

The new Māori Health Authority is set to have powers to commission health services, monitor Māori health and develop policy.

Little told Breakfast he didn’t want to create “undue pressure” during a pandemic by carrying out the reforms. However, he said the issue was urgent and the health sector was wanting the change.

“This pandemic has really exposed the disparities and inequalities in our health system. They’re not new. They’ve been there all the time, we’re just seeing them in very stark relief now.

“The question I faced was 'do we just kick the can down the road a little bit more?' … 'How long do we carry on tolerating this unfairness and this inequity?'”

Covid-19 showed “just the disparity between frankly Māori and pretty much the rest of the population”, he said.

Ministry of Health data shows about 30 per cent of the cases in the current Delta outbreak are Māori. However, Māori make up 60 per cent of cases who have ended up in hospital in the outbreak.

Meanwhile, vaccinations among younger Māori continue to lag behind the rest of the population.

Māori also generally face worse health outcomes than non-Māori.

Little said that was the result of some Māori living in isolated areas and being marginalised and alienated.

“[The health system] is not doing the job we require of it to a large chunk of our population who need it.”

He said the Government continued to partner with Māori and iwi providers to try and increase Māori vaccination rates.

As for Health New Zealand and the Māori Health Authority, Little said the two entities could only succeed if they worked together.

In fact, when he wanted to meet with the entities’ interim boards separately, the boards had wanted to meet together, Little said.

He said the Māori Health Authority would “work hand and glove with Health New Zealand” and provide leadership and stewardship for Māori health outcomes.