Previous pandemics have taught hard-won lessons which Waitaki’s Pasifika community has used to to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic, Oamaru Pacific Island Community Group president Hana Halalele says.
When the 1918 Spanish Flu reached the Pacific Islands it proved particularly deadly, killing more than 5% of Tonga and Fiji’s population, and a quarter of Western Samoa’s.
Last year, 83 people in Samoa, mainly children, died after a measles outbreak in the Pacific nation.
“[The Spanish Flu] was all over the Islands, but in Samoa I know the story very well because we are raised with it,” Mrs Halalele said.
“Samoa was under New Zealand administration, and they allowed a ship that wasn’t quarantined to dock there.
“Without all the health infrastructure that we are fortunate to have here, it went through the Islands really quickly.”
The experience contributed to how the Pasifika community had responded to Covid-19, she said.
“We relate it to another significant period in history, and also with the measles epidemic.
arrived it was really important we were ahead in terms of our messaging.”
The Spanish Flu is still remembered in Samoan culture today on White Sunday or Lotu Tamaiti, translated as children’s church day, which is marked in October each year, she said.
“When all the ministers and adults were hit really hard, there was no-one to take church services.
“So it was the kids who actually led the church services during that time, with songs, Bible verses and messages.”
According to data from the California-based Pacific Islander Center of Primary Care Excellence, Pacific Islanders living in America have a Covid-19 infection rate two to three times higher than the average in at least four American states.
But New Zealand had fared much better, Mrs Halalele said.
“I think we are really lucky because the country went in to lockdown early.
“We had all our health information and messaging done at Level 1 and 2, which was really helpful to help prepare for the seriousness of it.
“We targeted the community leaders of the Pacific ethnicities and the church leaders to get that message out.
“The Ministry for Pacific Peoples and the Ministry of Health rolled out a lot of really good communications.”
The social distancing measures implemented over the past six weeks had been a big change for Waitaki’s Pacific population, Mrs Halalele said.
“I think it’s been quite a challenge, to stick to just our homes. We are not used to being so restricted with our social connections.
“Especially with church and all the community events that come with it, but I think it went really well.
“I’m really proud of the way the Waitaki community has responded.”