One size fits all approach of self-isolation pilot proving detrimental for Pacific families

The complexities of home isolation continue to raise concerns for Pacific communities and GPs as the potential for primary care services being overwhelmed is a possibility with Covid-19 cases continue to rise on a daily basis.

The current home isolation pilot sees those infected with Covid-19 isolating at home as a means of helping manage the use of MIQ facilities. Since the implementation of this home isolation pilot, three people have passed away while isolating at home.

In a recent interview for RNZ’s Nine to Noon Show, the challenges of home isolation were discussed with a panel comprising of Pasifika Medical Association (PMA) and Pasifika Futures (PFL) CEO, Debbie Sorensen, PMA member Dr Maryann Heather and Whānau Ora Manager for PFL partner, The Fono’s Europa Kupu.

Mrs Sorensen says one of the key challenges is the lack of resources for families from vulnerable communities to safely isolate in their own homes.

“The assumption that everyone lives in a house with a couple of bathrooms and everyone has their own bedroom is certainly not the case for a large number of our Pacific community.

We’re getting a lot of requests from families for thermometers; we are getting requests from families for beds. There are complex matters when you are asking people to self-isolate at home.”

Dr Heather says with more people isolating at home, this will see general practice clinics become more involved in the care of people infected with Covid-19.

“It will fall down to general practice to look after the mid to moderate cases. Like with many other clinics, we have to do the best we can and it comes down to having a really good system and a model in place that we follow.”

She adds that there is a high need for appropriate resources to ensure that general practice clinics are prepared to support patients in home isolation.

“We have the equipment in the clinic, but with the numbers increasing, we’ve got to have some way of monitoring them and being able to access equipment that’s available.

We are trying to look at ways of sourcing equipment for our patients to look after them while at home. I think every general practice is looking at ways of getting equipment to be able to do our job safely.

Nobody knows what’s ahead, but we’ve seen what’s happened overseas and we don’t want to go that way. Now is just to work on what we can do, prepare for what’s ahead and prepare ourselves as best we can, especially for our community.”

For Ms Kupu, in her line of work she has come across families in extenuating circumstances where isolating at home has proven to be a challenge.

“It’s definitely a huge risk for our Pasifika families in overcrowded homes and isolating in different areas on their property – in garages, sleepouts.

Our families are complying with the rules, but at the same time their hands are tied in regards to where to isolate and how to isolate safely. It’s quite alarming and concerning that they have to live in situations like that.”

With the support of PFL, Ms Kupu and The Fono have been actively involved in ensuring families needs are met by providing welfare support and home essentials.

“We definitely need to mobilize a workforce in regards to supporting our families, in regards to their wellbeing, their living situation. There’s a lot of things that need to happen to be able to make sure our families are being taken care of safely in their own home.”

Mrs Sorensen further adds that a wider range of accommodation options is needed to better support Pacific families needing to isolate.

“We need a variety of options for families – accommodation where people can get out to exercise, where children are actually able to do activities and where people can also rest and recover.

One of the features about our community is that we often have people who have very complex health needs that need support.

And of course there’s an increasing demand everyday for mental health support for families who are isolating because of the concern and anxiety, so I think that this is going to become a more urgent matter as the cases continue to rise and as the predicted spread outside of Auckland continues.”

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Date: Thursday 11 November 2021