Associate Professor Dr Elana Taipapaki Curtis (Ngāti Rongomai, Ngāti Pikiao, Te Arawa) is a Public Health Physician currently working as Director Vision 20:20 at Te Kupenga Hauora Māori, University of Auckland, and is a member of Te Rōpū Whakakaupapa Urutā. Here, Dr Curtis discusses the continued work of Te Rōpū Whakakaupapa Urutā in keeping Māori safe and informed during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

Te Rōpū Whakakaupapa Urutā (the Rōpū) is the national Māori Pandemic Group which formed as a response to the threat of the Covid-19 pandemic, and out of a shared concern for the lack of a meaningful response for Māori and from a Māori perspective in Aotearoa New Zealand’s pandemic planning and response.

The Rōpū is made up of some of the nation’s leading Māori medical and health experts including Primary Care Specialists, Public Health experts, Public Health Physicians, Māori Nurses, Pharmacists and iwi leaders.

There are multiple roles the Rōpū has played through the emergence of the pandemic, the various stages of lockdown in Aotearoa, and that it continues to play today. A key role is ensuring whānau, hapū and iwi are provided with expert advice and information that meets their needs and that speaks to Māori from a Māori perspective.

Our work, resources and the information we share speaks to the fact that one size does not fit all when it comes to public health. This was, and remains a key concern for the Rōpū, and our website has become a crucial communication tool between the Rōpū and the community, enabling Māori health professionals to speak directly to Māori and provide resources that work for our communities.

Another key function of the Rōpū has been utilising our expertise in Māori health to predict what we felt would be the key issues for our communities as the pandemic progressed, and the country moved through the various stages of lockdown. By predicting and identifying key risks and concerns in our communities, we could highlight these issues and anticipate government responses, or lack-there-of.

There has been a huge amount of work undertaken by the Rōpū on the ground and in communities. As primary health care practitioners we knew the reality of what health care professionals and communities were facing, and were able to lobby and highlight the many shortcomings as we saw them.

There is much to celebrate in the Māori response to Covid-19. We should celebrate the exercising of tino rangatiratanga by Te Whānau-a-Apanui and other iwi who shut their iwi borders to protect their people. Or our marae across Aotearoa that shut their doors to protect their people well before they were told to by government.

We must also celebrate the work of initiatives like the Rōpū and the many Māori health professionals who have worked to keep our people safe and informed.

The one-size-fits-all approach hasn’t just been for the government and their approach to the pandemic. It’s also evident in our institutions, in who they see as valuable, and what expertise and forums they deem as valuable.

When I see the faces our institutions celebrate as heroes in the fight against Covid-19 I don’t see many Māori or Pasifika faces. I see champions of western-oriented scientific approaches, but I don’t see my colleagues who have worked so incredibly hard and who have contributed so much as part of this Rōpū.

Our mahi with the Rōpū is on a voluntary basis, and it’s been amazing to be a part of a team who have come together to do everything we can to help our communities, to keep them informed, and to keep them safe at a time of great uncertainty.

We know we have been extremely lucky that Covid-19 hasn’t taken hold in our communities. We also know from history that things could look very different, and that we are not out of the woods yet, but the Rōpū and Māori health professionals across Aotearoa will continue to work together with whānau, hapū and iwi to ensure they stay safe and informed.