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Māori fight back against influenza

Kaumātua line up to get their free flu jabs at the 2015 Kaumātua Idol.

Kaumātua line up to get their free flu jabs at the 2015 Kaumātua Idol.

Between October and December 1918 an influenza pandemic travelled across the globe and hit New Zealand. By December the death toll had topped 8600. Records are a bit sketchy but Māori suffered heavily, with at least 2160 deaths.

Te Puna Oranga, general manager, Ditre Tamatea, recalls his kuia’s memories of the pandemic.

Waikato DHB Māori Health (Te Puna Oranga) general manager Ditre Tamatea

Waikato DHB Māori Health (Te Puna Oranga) general manager Ditre Tamatea

“My grandmother witnessed the nightmare as a child and can recall carts of dead bodies rolling through the streets. There is talk in our oral traditions that our people living in Māori communities were denied access to hospitals, the roads were blocked by armed police; was that just management of the influenza outbreak, or something else? It is a chapter in our history which is quickly being forgotten by many,” he said.

“For Māori our marae became our hospitals, we tended to the sick and the dying, and there were plenty of our people in both categories. Whatever the response was in those days, influenza like death, did not discriminate.”

New Zealand lost about half as many people to influenza as it did the First World War. The impact was nothing short of catastrophic. Globally it infected 500 million people, including remote Pacific islands and the Arctic; of those 50 to 100 million of died. It was one of the deadliest natural disasters in human history.

Seasonal influenza visits us every year, this winter’s strain from the northern hemisphere is particularly deadly. What we saw in the United States and United Kingdom indicates it is likely to see many hospitalized and some of our whānau are likely to die from influenza, said Ditre

“Immunisation against influenza is perhaps your best defence.”

But how do we reach our whānau? How do we encourage our kaumātua to get their immunisation against influenza? Certainly if you are over the age of 65 you can go to your GP and get immunised for free.

But what else can we do? Why don’t we go to where our kaumātua are, like the Kaumātua Idol day, now there is a thought?

It was the 2015 Kaumātua Idol. More than 200 of Hamilton’s kaumātua filled the Te Wānanga o Aotearoa auditorium for a day of song, food and flu jabs.

Yes, flu jabs.

Rauawaawa Kaumātua Charitable Trust and Waikato District Health Board Māori Health unit – Te Puna Oranga joined forces to promote healthy lifestyles for older people in their communities.

Rauawaawa Kaumātua Charitable Trust chief executive Rangimahora Reddy said events like this brought kaumātua together in an environment that could improve their hauora (health).

“Kaumātua are lot more open to initiatives like flu vaccinations if they have their peers going with them – it acts as a support group for them,” she said.

“We work with the DHB and Midlands Health Network to access as many opportunities to improve our kaumātua wellbeing.”

Tamatea said this was a new way to bring health messages to Maori communities.

“It is about thinking outside the square and finding people where they normally are,” he said.

Within the Waikato DHB there are only about 2000 kaumātua aged 65 plus, which Tamatea said makes them a rare and much valued resource.

In total 105 kaumātua were vaccinated but Tamatea said the wider reach is the real success.

Roy Manukau with his niece Natania Katene got his flu vaccination on her advice at the 2015 Kaumātua Idol

Roy Manukau with his niece Natania Katene got his flu vaccination on her advice at the 2015 Kaumātua Idol

Natania Katene project manager from Te Puna Oranga worked with vaccinators and Rauawaawa staff to help co-ordinate the day’s events “attending today’s Kaumātua Idol is about bringing a service to the people.

“Our kaumātua are very precious to us, and unfortunately they are at risk of serious complications should they catch influenza,” she said.

Roy Manukau kaumātua took the opportunity to get immunised on the advice of his niece Natania.

“My family are always looking out for me and I trust them,” was the sentiments Roy shared.

This winter Te Puna Oranga wants to work alongside several Māori organisations to not only vaccinate kaumātua, one of the most at risk populations of serious health complications from influenza, but to also promote why vaccination is important, particularly to Māori.

“This is about DHB services, other services, coming together to fight the impacts and incidence of influenza on our people because it does not just make people really sick it actually can kill them,” said Tamatea.

“A lot of people don’t realise the flu hospitalises and kills people – so it is about promoting that message among our kaumātua and that in vaccinating themselves they not only better protect themselves but also protect other members of the whānau like their mokopuna,” he said.

FREE immunisation against influenza is available at your local doctors if you are in any of the following groups:

  • are aged 65 years or over (if you are in this group you can also get a FREE immunisation from your pharmacist)
  • are pregnant
  • regularly use an asthma inhaler
  • have diabetes
  • have heart disease
  • have kidney problems
  • have cancer
  • have a serious medical condition
  • a child aged 4 years and under who has been hospitalised for a respiratory illness, or has a history of significant respiratory illness
  • If you have another ongoing serious medical condition you may also be eligible for a FREE influenza immunisation

If you do not have one of these eligible conditions, you still will benefit from an influenza vaccination which you can get from your local doctor at a small cost.

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