Coronavirus: Māori, Pasifika twice as likely to die from COVID-19 than Pākehā - study

Māori and Pasifika populations are twice as likely to die from New Zealand's coronavirus outbreak as Pākehā, alarming new research has found.

Te Pūnaha Matatini researchers estimate that among Māori, the infection fatality rate (IFR) - that is, the ratio of deaths to total COVID-19 infections - could be as much as two-and-a-half times higher than it is for Pākehā.

There is limited evidence as to how coronavirus IFR rates vary by ethnicity, however, which means there is doubt over the extent to which Māori are at greater risk of contracting and dying from coronavirus.

For example, if age is the dominant factor determining IFR, then Māori are around 1.5 times more likely to die from COVID-19 than non-Māori. Meanwhile if underlying health conditions are the dominant factor, then the IFR for Māori surges to more than 2.5 times that of Pākehā.

Te Pūnaha Matatini says its research shows that alongside the elderly, Māori and Pasifika populations are those at highest risk of dying from COVID-19. 

This is because these are communities "where the compounded effects of underlying health conditions, socioeconomic disadvantage, and structural racism result in imbricated risk of contracting COVID-19, becoming unwell, and death," it says.

Te Pūnaha Matatini says the racism within the healthcare system, alongside "other inequities not reflected in official data", could increase IFR estimates for Māori and Pasifika further.

It also acknowledges the research may not account for cultural differences among ethnicities, which could skew results due to "factors that may disproportionately affect Māori and Pasifika".

Te Pūnaha Matatini noted the prevalence of crowded, multi-generational housing among Māori and Pasifika communities, which it believes may increase the risk of coronavirus transmission to the elderly.

So far, New Zealand has seen 11 deaths and 1409 infections as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak.

In March, the Government announced a $56 million package to support Māori through the coronavirus pandemic.

This comprises of $10 million reprioritised from Vote Māori Development for 'community outreach', $30m for Māori health services, $15m for Whānau Ora, $1m to provide Māori business with advice and planning and $470,000 for Te Arawhiti.

"My Māori ministerial colleagues and I know we must act now to protect our people, particularly our kaumātua and those who already have significant health issues," Whānau Ora Minister Peeni Henare said at the time.

"Times like these can be incredibly stressful so it's important that we make manaakitanga and kōtahitanga the centre of our response."