Māori leaders and innovators are finding all sorts of ways to try to help vaccinate and boost their people. While some initiatives are being derailed by anti-vaxxers, others are being stonewalled by public officials, writes political editor Jo Moir.

Analysis: For more than three months, Māori tech company, Tuaiwi, has been trying to access funding for a one-stop-shop online, which it has built to help whānau before, during and after Omicron.

In October the Government announced $120 million in Māori health funding – half of which was set aside to support Māori and iwi-led initiatives designed in a ‘by Māori, for Māori’ way.

Tuaiwi chief executive Hiria Te Rangi says an application for $290,000 has been sitting unanswered for months and on Wednesday the Ministry of Health rolled out its own platform instead.

The new tool, which was sent to Māori health providers in Tāmaki Makaurau on Wednesday, has similar elements to what Tuaiwi has already designed and set up but doesn’t have the same connections with Māori health and community providers.

It also doesn’t include a pulse oximeter and medical guide for when someone should call Healthline or go see their GP.

Te Rangi said she was contacted by the Ministry of Health – while waiting to hear back about her funding application – to see if she would help work on a similar platform the ministry was designing.

She told Newsroom it made little to no sense to set up a tool that already existed, especially when it had been designed from a trusted Māori perspective.

Given the mistrust of the state system that still exists amongst whānau and iwi, Te Rangi said it was frustrating the Ministry of Health was still focused on creating “one-size-fits-all’’ initiatives instead of supporting something different.

Associate Health Minister (for Māori health) Peeni Henare told Newsroom he wouldn’t discuss the details of Tuaiwi’s application because it would be inappropriate to interfere.

This came after the Ministry of Health told Newsroom it wouldn’t discuss Tuaiwi’s application because of “commercial sensitivity’’.

Health Minister Andrew Little hasn’t had direct involvement in the process and told Newsroom Tuaiwi’s online tool “sounds like just the sort of thing we should be getting out there’’.

Since Newsroom published Tuaiwi’s story, both the Prime Minister and Director-General of Health have been asked about the application for funding and whether Māori providers are getting the money they need.

Neither Jacinda Ardern nor Dr Ashley Bloomfield would speak to an individual case, but said funding was available and had already started to make a difference, which could be seen in the increased number of Māori who have been vaccinated.

Ardern said money had specifically gone to resources like mobile vaccination vans, which meant further rollouts and vaccinating children would be easier now and in the future.

“There is no question there are strong levels of support for tamariki to be vaccinated, but there is also some concern that schools can and have become the targets of some pretty aggressive and, in some cases, very nasty anti-vax sentiment.” – Covid Response Minister Chris Hipkins

Another way Māori leaders are keen to help with the vaccine rollout is by providing ways for tamariki to get their jabs at school.

But on Tuesday Covid Response Minister Chris Hipkins told Newsroom that initiative came with its own set of challenges.

“There is no question there are strong levels of support for tamariki to be vaccinated, but there is also some concern that schools can and have become the targets of some pretty aggressive and, in some cases, very nasty anti-vax sentiment.

“And so we have to just tread that line very carefully,’’ he said.

Hipkins and Henare met with Māori and iwi leaders on Friday and a recurring theme was the desire for schools to be involved.

“They want to be supported but they don’t want to find themselves targeted. And so I think just as long as we continue to work together we can overcome those barriers,’’ Hipkins told Newsroom.

Asked whether he was confident the money set aside for Māori initiatives was going to the right place, Hipkins said the rollout of the funding was “progressive’’.

“So it hasn’t all been spent, but we wouldn’t expect it to all be spent as the vaccine isn’t fully rolled out yet, but we are regularly checking in to make sure it’s getting to the right places,’’ he said.

The Ministry of Health was asked how much of the targeted funding has been spent to date and what is being done to assist Tuaiwi with its application but it did not respond in time for publication.

Jo Moir is Newsroom's political editor.

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