Funding is set aside for Māori organisations to provide whānau and hapū with trusted health services during the pandemic. But, as political editor Jo Moir reports, the cash isn’t forthcoming when it’s applied for.

After failed and stalled applications for public funding, Tuaiwi’s chief executive says it’s difficult to see the Government’s pledge to support ‘by Māori for Māori’ kaupapa as anything other than lip service.

Tuaiwi is a Māori tech company that builds technology around Māori needs and has a particular focus on building services that encourage and support Māori health.

Chief executive Hiria Te Rangi told Newsroom that after three months of trying to access government funding for Māori health services, it’s clear the Ministry of Health is focused on using the same one-size-fits-all approach, which doesn’t often reach Māori.

In October, associate health minister Peeni Henare announced $120 million of funding to protect Māori communities during Covid.

Specifically, $60 million was set aside to support Māori and iwi-led initiatives to support Māori, while the other half of the funding was centred around boosting Māori vaccination rates.

This isn’t the first time funding hasn’t reached providers. In October last year the Government was heavily criticised when Te Aroha Kanarahi Trust resorted to setting up a Givealittle page to get funding for a mobile vaccination clinic for Tairāwhiti.

Donations flooded in, well exceeding the $80,000 needed, and the Prime Minister had to answer repeated questions about why communities were paying for their own vaccination programmes.

The Government insisted there was funding for the van and soon after announced additional funding for Māori providers like Te Aroha Kanarahi.

Te Rangi told Newsroom the platform built by Tuaiwi has been done in three stages – the first two helped whānau identify locations of interest, testing and vaccination stations and mobile clinics and linked them to other health services.

After funding the first two through donations and other money, including Te Rangi taking out some of her own mortgage, the company decided to approach the Ministry of Health for public funding set aside for Māori initiatives.

After originally pitching for up to $1 million due to being unsure of the scale they were looking to grow to, they narrowed a second application to $290,000 after the first was rejected with no explanation why, Te Rangi said.

The platform they’re seeking funding for is called Pae Hono and is a one-stop shop to help Māori before, during and after Omicron’s arrival in the community.

“It feels like it’s about the Ministry of Health holding onto the control.’’ – Tuaiwi chief executive Hiria Te Rangi

Now that Omicron is here and spreading, Te Rangi says she had no choice but to go public with her frustrations as the need to help Māori communities through Omicron is increasing each day.

Pae Hono is set up to help those self-isolating at home monitoring their condition.

It has digitised the paper version local DHBs give those at home to fill out their temperature and monitor their symptoms.

“It has digitised it all, so you just put it all into the website and then we give them feedback on whether they’re doing okay or need to call Healthline or need to go to the hospital,’’ Te Rangi said.

“Also, when you’re isolated, whānau need kai, but can’t leave to go do a shop and can’t often access things like Uber Eats. So at the heart of Pae Hono is the connection between whānau and Māori services who will do food delivery and pharmacy drop-offs.

“It directly links them with this help and the delivery side of it is built with two iwi ready to use it.’’

Adding to Te Rangi’s frustrations was a call from someone within the Ministry of Health asking if she would help them with its own programme they were looking to build that aimed to provide a similar tool.

“How could they ask me that when we’ve been denied funding for something we have already built.’’

The second application is sitting with the ministry awaiting further guidance, according to emails seen by Newsroom.

The check is on the supplements recommended for whānau to have available in preparation for Covid.

“There are some things in the tool [kit] that are good to have but not absolutely necessary (eg. the long list of supplements). So, there is something for us to check here as to what the clinical guidance is,’’ the email said.

Te Rangi told Newsroom the supplements were carefully chosen based on advice already freely available on approved New Zealand health websites.

“It’s things like magnesium and Vitamin D, but what we want to do is recommend to whānau the types of food they should eat to get those sorts of things.

“We did a proper check and didn’t put anything on there that didn’t make sense,’’ she said.

The diet advice is specific to Māori food and things whānau would have access to, which is different to the European approach and mindset, Te Rangi said.

With schools starting to open, paediatric vaccination uptake low, and Omicron already in the community, Te Rangi said the decision was made on Sunday night to set up a Givealittle page to get much-needed funding.

She says there appear to be good intentions from the Government to provide funding, but that hasn’t trickled down to the public servants making the decisions.

“It feels like it’s about the Ministry of Health holding on to the control.’

“You can see it in other themes, like the refusal to hand over data to help with vaccination,’’ she said.

National’s Covid Response spokesperson Chris Bishop says the Government “talks a good game on finding solutions for Māori communities’’ but too often those who can do the job hit a brick wall.

“The same thing happened in the vaccine rollout, the ministry was way too slow engaging with Māori on the ground who were out there doing the mahi more traditional European providers weren’t doing,’’ he told Newsroom.

The mobile vaccination clinic in Tairāwhiti took media attention to get resolved and Bishop says it doesn’t help when government ministers voice their frustration, like they have done previously about the slow Māori vaccination rollout, when they’re the ones in a position to fix it.

“Frankly, it’s not good enough for (Health Minister) Andrew Little to throw his hands up exacerbated and say, ‘We really should do something about this’ when he’s the minister.

“He needs to take some responsibility,’’ Bishop said.

The Ministry of Health was contacted for comment on Tuesday morning, but didn’t respond in time for publication.

Jo Moir is Newsroom's political editor.

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