Church leaders within the Pacific community have played an important role in spreading the health messages during the COVID-19 pandemic and we will need their support to endorse the benefits of vaccinations, says a leading Pacific doctor.
Pasifika Medical Association (PMA) member and General Practitioner at The Fono, Dr Natalie Hopoi, completed her Master’s in Public Health at the University of Auckland in 2018. Her thesis focused on the role that Samoan Methodist church ministers played in promoting health literacy within their congregation.
Dr Hopoi chose this topic because she was raised in a Samoan speaking Methodist church herself and knows the influence of church ministers in our community.
“The majority of Pacific people are Christian and rely on the messages received by their church ministers to make important health decisions for themselves and their families.”
As the world is dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr Hopoi says it is important that our church ministers are fully informed about the COVID-19 health guidelines and are educated about the vaccines, which started rolling out in New Zealand last week.
“With the current situation, our church ministers should be educated about the effects COVID-19 has on our community, especially now that the vaccines are available.
It’s important that they understand the risks and benefits of the vaccine and are comfortable spreading that information to their congregation. This will hopefully increase the number of Pacific families wanting to get vaccinated.”
New Zealand Director of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield spoke at a national zoom talanoa last week, attended by over 600 Pacific church, community and youth leaders. He said he was grateful for the work that church leaders had done in helping spread the message about COVID-19 to the Pacific community.
“The important role faith-based organisations played in acting as an anchor in the Pacific and other communities across Aotearoa, helped us come together, not just around our faith but also in looking after and supporting each other”, says Dr Bloomfield.
He acknowledged the huge contribution Pacific churches had made during the second lockdown in August last year, when it was confirmed there were positive COVID-19 cases in the Pacific community.
“The way that churches and the Pacific community mobilised to support each other was part of our success of getting a good outcome.”