How a Tongan household of 10 are coping during COVID-19
By Aroha Awarau for the Pasifika Medical Assocation
As a child growing up in Tonga, mother-of-12 Ivoni Fuimaono was haunted by the stories her great-grandfather would tell her about surviving the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic which infected most of the population and killed two thousand people.
Learning from the horrors of the past, Ivoni is determined to protect her family during the latest worldwide health crisis and the compulsory four-week self isolation period declared by the New Zealand government to fight the spread of the Covid-19 virus.
“We are listening to the advice given by the experts, to wash our hands, to keep clean, to avoid contact as much possible and to not panic,” says Ivoni.
Life as we know it dramatically changed in a matter of days. The Covid-19 virus quickly spread around the world since it was identified last year In China and ultimately led to the New Zealand Government declaring a level 4 public health emergency, forcing many families to accept a new norm.
Ivoni lives in a four-bedroom home with ten family members in Auckland’s Papatoetoe, which includes her husband Keepu, her 3-month-old granddaughter and her children, whose ages range from 10 to 24. With three generations living under one roof and her elderly parents living down the road, Ivoni is determined to heed the advice from the Ministry of Health and the government in order to protect her family.
“We are educated about how the virus is contracted and know how to protect ourselves. So it’s up to all of us to ensure that we don’t catch it.”
Psychiatrist Dr. Staverton Kautoke from the Pasifika Medical Association says many Pacific households are in the same situation as Ivoni and her family, where they live in severe overcrowding situations. He says these households need to be extra vigilant during this crucial time.
“The advice from the government is to try to avoid close contact with those that are unwell. Given the overcrowding situation, my advice would be to have some practical measures in place, like allocating a room or space in the house for anyone that is sick, have a healthy adult care for those who are sick from a distance and continue to keep healthy hygiene measures.”
Dr. Kautoke says the isolation period may affect emotional and mental well being. He urges families to be kind to each other and to use the time to embrace their culture.
“This can be the time to learn new things like teaching children Pasifika language or how to bake some Pasifika delicacies such as topai (Tongan) or koko Samoa. Grandparents can tell stories of their upbringing or Pasifika mythology and using spirituality and family prayers to guide us.”
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern warned the four-week lockdown could be extended if the spread of the virus was not brought under control.
Despite the uncertain and challenging times ahead, Ivoni takes comfort that her great-grandfather survived the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic and lived to tell her his stories.
“Our blood is strong and so is our spirit,” she says.