Pasifika community most vulnerable to coronavirus: study

Thousands of Pasifika people in New Zealand could need hospital treatment for COVID-19 and hundreds are at risk of dying if community transmission of the disease accelerates, new research has found. 

Members of Maori and Pasifika communities in New Zealand are twice as likely to die from contracting the novel coronavirus, according to the research published on Friday. 

The predicted death rates are based on modelling of a hypothetical increased and widespread COVID-19 transmission rate across New Zealand. The predictions of the virus' impact on different ethnic groups is contained in a New Zealand Medical Journal article: 'Estimated inequities in COVID-19 infection fatality rates by ethnicity for Aotearoa New Zealand'.

The study finds that Māori and Pasifika people have an elevated risk of contracting the virus as 25 per cent of Māori and 45 per cent of Pacific people live in crowded houses.

Māori and Pacific people were more likely to receive hospital treatment for the virus due to underlying health conditions, the study predicted.

Conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and unhealthy lifestyle choices all lead to greater risk of contracting the illness, according to the research. 


“The New Zealand European [or] other population is structurally old, but has relatively high life expectancy and low unmet healthcare need,” the report reads.

“Māori and Pacific populations are structurally younger, but have lower life expectancy, higher unmet healthcare need and higher prevalence of comorbid conditions, such as diabetes and asthma.”

Other conditions found prevalent in the Maori and Pacific communities include cancer, chronic respiratory diseases, and heart diseases.

The study model was adjusted to account for the effect of comorbidity, unmet healthcare need and life expectancy. However, recent evidence suggests that age is the dominant factor over comorbidities although it still has statistically significant effects.

“Some of these factors may be less important while COVID-19 case numbers are low, the goal is elimination or containment, and surveillance and contact tracing capacity is adequate,” the report reads.

“However, if rapid community transmission of COVID-19 takes hold, as has happened elsewhere, it will place unprecedented stress on the healthcare system.

“This will make access to healthcare increasingly difficult and necessitate decisions by practitioners about who gets access to care. This will almost certainly amplify existing racism in the healthcare system.”


The new regional modelling by ethnic group showed just how bad it could get in the Counties Manukau area alone, with about 600 Māori and 950 Pacific people expected to die.

Another 5000 Māori and 7500 Pasifika would require hospital level care and 1000 Māori would need intensive care.

The importance of an elimination approach to the virus in New Zealand and the prioritizing of high risk communities was confirmed by the study.

“In addition, multi-generational households increase the risk of transmission to older groups. These compounding factors mean that Māori and Pacific peoples are at risk of bearing a disproportionate health burden from COVID-19," the study concluded.

One of the report's co-authors, University of Auckland statistician Andrew Sporle, said that in order to get ahead of a potential community outbreak, the Ministry of Health needed to making high quality regional data available and disseminate that to local leaders.

The same sentiments were expressed by another report co-author, University of Canterbury Mathematics Professor Michael Plank.

"And so this really points to the need for measures that work with affected communities to protect that risk groups and regions from those devastating impacts,” he said.

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