PARTICIPATING in a Government inquiry can be daunting but it’s a privilege and our duty, says Turanga Health researcher Dr Shirley Keown.
“There seems little doubt that inquiries into disaster events in Aotearoa have generally been useful and so it was important that we take up the offer of a seat at that table.”
Dr Keown represented Turanga Health at the Covid-19 Lessons Learned Commission of Inquiry in Tairāwhiti this month.
Chief executive Reweti Ropiha says Dr Keown’s professional presentation gained the respect of participants. “Shirley articulated Turanga Health’s wealth of knowledge about vaccination settings, service mobility and equity, and the priority groups we targeted, in a thoughtful, robust way. It was well-received,” he says.
During the pandemic, Turanga Health led the way in community vaccination, hosting 185 drive-through and 161 static vaccination clinics between May 2021 and October 2022. Of all Māori vaccinated in the region, Turanga Health was responsible for immunising nearly a quarter of the whānau.
“Given this involvement, and our kaupapa, which was to engage and connect with Māori in a way that embodied the whānau experience, it was important we share our learnings during the inquiry,” says Dr Keown.
“Getting to do the mahi we wanted to, wasn’t always straight forward at the time, and so this was a chance to reflect and share our own wisdom and information.”
A Royal Commission inquiry is the highest inquiry available in New Zealand. They take an in depth look into any matter of public importance or concern to the Government of the day. There are currently three underway in this country: Covid-19 Lessons Learned; Historical Abuse in State Care and in the Care of Faith-Based Institutions; and the Response to the North Island Severe Weather Events.
The Covid-19 inquiry will help New Zealanders and the Government be prepared as possible for when something like Covid-19 next hits.
Dr Keown and iwi representatives presented feedback to the three Covid-19 inquiry commissioners: epidemiologist Professor Tony Blakely, former member of parliament Hekia Parata, and economist John Whitehead.
While some Royal Commission inquiries can be done very formally with official hearings similar to a court process, this one is being managed more informally with commissioners travelling up and down the country to extract out the lessons.
Prof Blakely says everyone in New Zealand, and indeed many Kiwis living overseas, was impacted by Covid-19, and it’s for this reason the inquiry’s scope is broad.
“There is a wealth of information we have already begun to analyse, which will help inform the inquiry. But just as important is hearing from the many organisations, communities, and individuals across Aotearoa about their involvement, experiences and insights of the pandemic.”
During the meeting the commissioners learned more about Turanga Health’s timing, flexibility, and scale of its vaccination campaign. For example, Turanga Health was the first iwi health provider to train kaiāwhina vaccinators as part of the urgent and necessary workforce, thereby ensuring whānau faces in whānau spaces.
As well as sharing Turanga Health’s lessons learned, Dr Keown says there was a chance to talk about future challenges such as raising childhood immunisation rates, and the need for iwi to be involved at the co-decision time for public health initiatives, and not just with co-design.
“It’s important that we take all these learnings and don’t let people and funders fall back into old systems. As tangata whenua our notion was to serve the community. We had the audacity to be audacious during the pandemic and think outside the box. The unfortunate reality is that there will be another pandemic and we bring a well of experience to managing in that space.”
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