Tagata Pasifika

The Pacific voice on
New Zealand television
since 1987

Tagata Pasifika

The Pacific voice on
New Zealand television
since 1987

COVID-19, the digital divide and our Pacific elderly

By Amio Ikihele


This story was originally published on Moana Research on March 20th 2020 and is republished with permission.

A few days ago, my mum called me worried as she couldn’t get through to her nurse for a repeat prescription. She wasn’t allowed to visit her doctor and their centre was overwhelmed with people trying to make appointments. My mum who’s 72 with long term conditions self manages her conditions well. Our centre has around eight doctors and eight nurses including an online patient portal. The patient portal allows individuals to make appointments online. I can access this portal and make appointments online. My mum however cannot.

I was able to get her repeat prescription in the end, but I did so by emailing a colleague at the centre who then forwarded my email to her nurse. I used email and of course, I knew someone at the centre. My mum doesn’t have an email address. She doesn’t even know what ‘Google’ is and if I was to show her the word, she’ll probably just think I spelt ‘goggle’ wrong!!!

Why am I sharing this story?

Well, as we do our part to reduce the spread of COVID-19, I’m reminded that it’s usually during times of disasters or public health outbreaks, we see how systems that were created with the intention to provide efficiency can instead create unintended inefficiencies. Individuals like my mum are considered ‘digitally disconnected’ and so come under the umbrella of those being in the ‘digital divide’ something I wrote about in a blog in 2018 “The digital divide and Pasifika”.

Around the world, Telehealth is being used to bridge the gap between people, health professionals and health systems. Individuals with suspected symptoms are able to communicate with their doctor online, effectively being ‘triaged’ without the need to attend their health care facility, limiting exposure to the virus. Everyone stays safe with follow up plans put in place. Once example of a great Telehealth service in New Zealand is iMOKO which was developed to increase access to health services for children. Telehealth is not available in all of our primary health care organisations, but this may be an indication of what our future healthcare could look like – screening individuals remotely without the need to visit a health provider.

There are benefits to virtual platforms BUT only for those who have digital access. I use my mum as an example because I’m concerned about many of our households and Pacific elderly parents like her who may not have access to digital health tools, online patient portals, email systems or devices to access the internet. Even in the event of possible school closures, I worry about the many Māori and Pacific children who may not have access to a digital device to access online learning (if schools provide this as option).

For those of us who are digitally savvy, we have privilege by being able to connect to online health services, social media news feeds (don’t know if this is a good or bad thing?!) and live announcements. We need to be mindful however of those who do not have the same privilege as us, especially our Pacific parents.

What can you do?

Please check in with your elder parents, aunties, uncles, church members, neighbours and other family members and ask if they are ok. Check if they have had trouble accessing their family doctor or nurse. Assist them if they need repeat medications. Call or email their health provider on their behalf. Provide assistance if they’re too scared to go out. Our Pacific elderly are very vulnerable at this time. We need to make sure they’re safe without causing panic.

Also, please, let’s use the term ‘physical distancing’ rather than ‘social distancing’. The elderly in our community are already prone to social isolation and long term loneliness – COVID-19 will just exacerbate this.


  • Keep up with hygiene precautions (washing hands, safe coughing practices, avoid touching eyes, face, mouth etc)
  • Check in with your elders
  • Follow the health advice given by public health professionals
  • Call 0800 358 5453 if you feel unwell
  • #DoYourPart

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.

– Psalm 46:1



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