People hiding in their rooms and screening their phone calls are just some of the challenges that community finders face when tracking down close contacts of those in the community who have tested positive for Covid-19.
Maria Kumitau normally works as the Maternal and Infant Nutrition Coordinator at The Fono, a Pasifika Futures partner and health provider based in Auckland and Northland.
But during the past three Covid-19 lockdowns, which saw South Auckland suburbs at the epicentre of the outbreaks, Maria has been deployed to help the Ministry of Health find the people identified as close contacts and to make sure they get tested for Covid-19.
This community finder role requires a lot of investigation work, phone calls and home visits. Community finders also rely on word of mouth and the community network to help find individuals when traditional methods do not work.
“If you are a casual or close contact it’s important that you follow protocol, go into self-isolation and get tested for Covid-19. This keeps everyone in our community safe.”
In the past year, Maria has been responsible for tracing and finding 62 individuals. She says that most families are co-operative but there are a small group that make her job difficult – by hiding in their rooms when she visits or avoiding her calls due to the stigma attached.
“Our families are often scared because when we turn up in our PPE gear, they don’t want the neighbours to think they have Covid-19. One person even hid in her room, that’s how far they will go.”
She says having community finders that speak the different Pacific languages is valuable because when families hear the importance of contact tracing in their own Pacific languages, they become more receptive.
“It’s important that our pastors and other community leaders convey a message that it’s okay if you are one of the people that the Ministry of Health is trying to find to have a test.”
Lucyanne Laurenson, who is the Director of Learning Development at the Pasifika Medical Association (PMA), refers families who need support to Maria and the crew at The Fono.
She describes the team at The Fono and other Pacific agencies who not only trace contacts but also provide food packages and welfare support, as “The Avengers”.
“These teams are full of superheroes because they will do anything to help and save our Pacific community. It’s all about our families.”
Date: Wednesday 10 March 2021