Tagata Pasifika

The Pacific voice on
New Zealand television
since 1987

Tagata Pasifika

The Pacific voice on
New Zealand television
since 1987

Call to Pacific health sector to help with Auckland Omicron outbreak

Chief Executive Debbie Sorensen.
Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air
Chief Executive Debbie Sorensen. Photo: Supplied
Chief Executive of The Pasifika Medical Association Debbie Sorensen. Photo: Supplied
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Gladys Hartson | Senior Journalist

The Pasifika Medical Association is looking for interested Pacific clinicians and health practitioners to join its medical assistance deployment to help fight the Omicron outbreak in Auckland.

The Pacific Medical Assistance Team (PACMAT) has been operating for over 10 years and consists of Pacific health professionals who, alongside their colleagues from the Australian and New Zealand medical assistance teams, are trained to respond to a humanitarian crisis in the community.

Chief Executive Debbie Sorensen says the feedback from the four provider organisations they partner with is that they are really feeling the load and are getting more referrals by the day.

“As we absolutely know and predicted, the Pacific and Māori community carry the burden of this outbreak and then of course that goes onto our partners,” Sorensen says.

“So our partners are saying they are under severe pressure. They need more resourcing.

“They are talking about the increasing need for food support, for housing, which is really really hard, and the inability of people now to socially isolate because of the speed and quick infection rates,” she says.

And already, there is stress on the workforce.

“Our workforce is particularly important at the moment because the Pacific health and social services workforce is the only workforce that has language skills and competency and that’s really important in reaching out to families who are frightened and scared, especially those who have been told that they have Omicron.”

Sorensen says when there’s been a particular problem in New Zealand in the past, PACMAT has responded.

“We responded to the Tongan bus crash with the students in Gisborne on Christmas day a few years ago and before that we responded to the Katikati car crash with the boys coming out of the pack house.”

So far, the response from the health sector to their request for expressions of interest has been positive.

“The feedback has been fantastic actually, you know I’m always in awe at the number of people who will put their hands up willing to serve and volunteer.

“And at the moment we are asking for expressions of interest for various missions. We’re about to send a mission to Niue to support the Ministry of Health in Niue. There’s of course Tonga, and we have actually deployed a team to Queenstown to support the Moana Pasifika rugby group.”

PACMAT continues to support the Pacific community not only in New Zealand but in the region. Their first major mission was travelling to Samoa to help with the aftermath of the tsunami in 2009.

They have responded to every natural disaster in the region since deploying teams to Vanuatu, Fiji and back to Samoa in response to the measles outbreak in 2019.

Sorensen says the team is now gearing up to support Tonga in their response to the volcanic eruption, tsunami and COVID-19 outbreak.

Chief Executive Debbie Sorensen. Photo: Supplied
Chief Executive of The Pasifika Medical Association Debbie Sorensen. Photo: Supplied

Discussions are ongoing with the NZ Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Health Ministry in Tonga. Sorenson says they have been organising a psycho-social team to go, which would include councillors, nurses and therapists who speak the language and are very familiar with Tonga ready to respond to the trauma with Omicron.

“There is a lot of anxiety with our communities in Tonga as there is here, and so the Ministry of Health in Tonga is very careful to try and limit any new infections coming across the border because that’s very important,” she says.

“So we’re really just waiting for their permission and a formal request and that would require our team to go into isolation for 21 days and we have volunteers who are very happy to do that.”

Ms Sorensen says while the team is feeling the impact of the past two years she is inspired by the response from the community and the resilience and toughness of our families

“That makes you get out of bed and makes you want to go to work.”

Sorensen says there are expressions of interest for various jobs and one of those jobs is to provide a surge workforce to our Pacific providers, particularly in Auckland.

“We have a number of opportunities for people and if they go onto our website they can register for either a particular role or just register generally and as opportunities come up we’d love to have them.

“We’re really interested in our Pacific diaspora, Pacific people in NZ who want to put up their hand and volunteer and we’ve got plenty of work for everyone.”

For all enquiries, contact Melissa Fidow on [email protected]



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