Māori 50 percent more likely to die from COVID-19 than non-Māori - study

A study has found Māori and 50 percent more likely to die from COVID-19 than non-Māori. 

Another paper, also in the New Zealand Medical Journal, detailed evidence of institutional racism in the healthcare system. 

They're separate studies, but the two findings are very much linked.

Professor Michael Plank has a renewed interest in keeping up-to-date with New Zealand's elimination strategy - now that he's looked into a theoretical future with unchecked COVID-19 and seen the impact on Māori and Pacific Islanders. 

"This just reinforces the importance of controlling the virus and eliminating it - because it just shows the devastating impact it could have if it were to become in these communities," says study author Professor Michael Plank.

He's found the risk of dying from COVID-19 is 50 percent higher for Māori and Pacific Islanders than other New Zealanders. 

While those communities have been proactive about protecting themselves since the pandemic began - delivering PPE and care packages to vulnerable whanau - and setting up iwi checkpoints with police.

Researchers say there are more entrenched issues that disproportionately affect these communities - things like the cost of healthcare and substandard housing. 

"In the Māori Health sector, we're very aware that Māori inequities exist," says Taupua Waiora Māori Research Centre director Denise Wilson.

There are three main factors that affect all communities' risk of death from COVID-19.

Pākehā have a larger older population which increases risk, but there's a greater chance Māori and Pacific Island communities have unmet healthcare needs.

Those communities are also more likely to have underlying conditions like heart disease, so when you take all those factors into account, their overall risk is much higher than other ethnicities. 

Dr Ashley Bloomfield says the latest outbreak has highlighted the importance of targeted strategies.  

"It's been actually quite eye-opening the importance of the Māori and Pacific health professionals and providers in engaging with these communities," he said.

Engaging, but more importantly mitigating the risks for those who have more to lose.