Māori and Pacific Islanders in Aotearoa New Zealand may be at a higher risk of hospitalisation due to COVID-19, according to a new analysis, published in the New Zealand Medical Journal.
Kiwi researchers conducted a statistical analysis of hospitalisation outcomes during the 2020 outbreaks in Aotearoa New Zealand, and found that, compared to other ethnic groups, Māori had 2.5 times greater odds of hospitalisation after catching COVID-19 and Pacific Islanders had 3 times greater odds, regardless of age or pre-existing conditions.
“We found that, on average, a 59-year-old Māori person had comparable risk of needing hospital treatment for COVID-19 as an 80-year-old Pākehā [New Zealand European] person,” says Michael Plank of the University of Canterbury, who was part of the research team.
“For Pacific people, the comparable age was 55 years old. This shows that, after controlling for age, Māori and Pacific people are at higher risk of severe illness if they catch COVID-19. “
The team found that other risk factors may cause these groups to have a higher risk of infection, which may exacerbate inequity in disease burden. Identifying these inequities could improve services.
“We all know that the risk of COVID-19 increases with age. This research showed that the risk from increasing age isn’t the same across the population,” says Plank.
“Statistical analyses provide evidence of the extent of health inequity and the disproportionate health burden suffered by some ethnic groups,”
“You can’t solve a problem if you don’t know about it!”
Melissa Carey, a registered nurse and academic at the University of Auckland and descendent of Ngāti Raukawa Iwi (Iwi, meaning people or nation, is a social unit in Aotearoa Māori society), who was not involved in the study, says: “I think there is value in exploring the available data regarding the relationship between ethnicity, equity and health outcomes.
“It does highlight that COVID-19 caught the data collection system off guard in regard to ethnicity and equity issues. Aotearoa New Zealand needs to develop strategies for working better with Māori and Pacific peoples to collect, store and retain and share meaningful data.
“The authors have clearly identified the limitations of their research, and the dangers of generalising the findings where there are limited variables and gaps in knowledge.
“It is known that ethnicity is not a measure of identity, therefore there is need to review the purpose of ethnicity or identity data.”
Carey also mentions that the paper does not investigate the social burden of hospitalisation when restrictions are in place, which may affect hospital admissions.
The study has resonance for medical authorities in Australia, which hosts small but significant populations of Māori and Pacific Islanders.
The 2016 Australian census recorded a total for both groups of about 350,000.
Deborah Devis is a science journalist at Cosmos. She has a Bachelor of Liberal Arts and Science (Honours) in biology and philosophy from the University of Sydney, and a PhD in plant molecular genetics from the University of Adelaide.
Read science facts, not fiction...
There’s never been a more important time to explain the facts, cherish evidence-based knowledge and to showcase the latest scientific, technological and engineering breakthroughs. Cosmos is published by The Royal Institution of Australia, a charity dedicated to connecting people with the world of science. Financial contributions, however big or small, help us provide access to trusted science information at a time when the world needs it most. Please support us by making a donation or purchasing a subscription today.