Pacific Media Watch

14 August 2020

NZ: Barbara Dreaver: Should we identify the first covid family as Pasifika? Yes we should, and here’s why

TVNZ's Barbara Dreaver ... "Pacific lives matter". Image: PMC screenshot from TVNZ

By Barbara Dreaver, 1 NEWS Pacific correspondent
AUCKLAND (TVNZ 1 News/Asia Pacific Report/Pacific Media Watch): Pasifika family or just an Auckland family?

There has been much debate over whether it was wrong to identify the family at the centre of New Zealand’s covid-cluster as a “Pasifika family”.

As Pacific correspondent let me make this clear – it would have been the absolute peak of irresponsibility not to.

READ MORE: Covid spread could ‘decimate’ Pasifika, Māori communities, warns Tukuitonga

And here’s why.

Pasifika live and breathe community – we interact widely with each other, we share, we are big churchgoers, we live in intergenerational homes – and 40 percent in overcrowded conditions.

Unlike most other communities, Pacific families do not live in isolation.

To not share the information that the affected family was one of our own and interacting in our community circles for days before being tested was unfathomable.

My business is not to keep information hidden or censored because people might be upset or feel targeted. People’s lives are at risk, there is too much on the line for tippy toeing around people’s sensitivities.

Keeping Pasifika families safe
The information was given not to victimise Pasifika – but to give our vulnerable community crucial information they were entitled to to keep them safe. It is about helping people living near a new covid-cluster to make life-saving decisions.

And it was important that information be given as quickly as possible so Pasifika could be extra vigilant and be aware that unlike the first wave, covid-19 is being transmitted within our circles.

In the first wave, Pasifika had low infection rates – only 85 cases, five percent of the total number. They were easily traceable.

This situation is not. It is different and unless immediate action is taken we are looking at an unfolding tragedy in our community.

We hear about how covid-19 does not discriminate. Well it doesn’t in terms that anyone can be infected.

But it is the Pacific community who are most at risk because of the way we live, interact, work on the frontline and have high rates of underlying health issues contributing to covid-19 deaths.

In the US, Pasifika are infected at ten times the rate of white Americans in many states and we are not pretending otherwise. The people there are facing an unravelling situation for many reasons – we do not want to be in that place.

It was not their fault
It was important to me not to reveal the ethnicity of the affected family despite knowing it from the get go as it would have likely identified them. It was not their fault, they didn’t magically contract covid-19 from Tinkerbell. It came from somewhere and any of us could have been in that same position.

Their ethnicity is not relevant as they had no overseas travel, but the fact they interacted in the Pasifika community, in ways which are just now becoming clear is.

It is unfortunate that the government of the island country the family originated from put out a media release confirming their ethnicity and that information was put to air in that country, is all over social media and other media outlets.

That island government got its information from the New Zealand Ministry of Health.

Despite this 1 NEWS chose not to reveal the family’s ethnicity and will continue not to despite it being public information.

South Auckland community ‘hugely disappointed’ after local family contracts Covid-19

The very thing – community interaction – which makes Pasifika vulnerable to covid is also a huge strength. Pasifika know how to look after each other and work together.

Leaders inspiring hope
Add to that a team of leaders who have been working on the frontline such as Dr Collin Tukuitonga, Pakilau Manase Lua from the Pacific Response Coordination Team, Taleiai Edwin Puni from the Pacific Leadership Forum, Auckland counsellor Efeso Collins and the many outstanding health professionals, church, community and political leaders who inspire hope.

But make no mistake… there are grim times ahead. If you feel upset over “Pasifika” being used as being the centre of this covid cluster, it’s time to have a long think and work out what’s more important.

Pacific lives matter.

Barbara Dreaver is of Kiribati and Cook Islands descent. This TVNZ News column has been republished with permission.

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