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University of Otago Associate Dean Rural Garry Nixon, who also works as a rural hospital specialist at Dunstan Hospital in Clyde, and University of Waikato Professor of Population Health Ross Lawrenson are concerned the current system of reporting Covid-19 test results does not enable a clear picture for rural health providers.
Instead, they are pushing for a move to reporting cases by district council areas - which is done in the Southern District Health Board area but not in some other parts of the country - as a minimum.
Some DHBs, particularly those with significant rural populations cover large geographical areas.
Associate Prof Nixon explained that unless a cluster was reported, it was not possible to tell in which part of these large areas cases were concentrated.
"The pandemic demands a response at all levels, including by rural and remote communities and their services. Good data will support this response.”
Prof Lawrenson, a public health physician and board member of the New Zealand Rural General Practice Network, said they would prefer that results were reported on a regional level within DHBs.
"Reporting data on Covid-19 cases for smaller regions will make it easier for communities to understand their risk and for rural health providers and other community services to plan their response to the pandemic."
Some DHBs have started to report cases by district council area, a move the pair is in favour of.
"While not perfect, this is a considerable improvement on reporting by DHB area and we would encourage the Ministry of Health to start reporting cases by district council areas for all of New Zealand and to consider this as the basis for community testing.
"It will also be important when we want to move to community-based testing that we have a clear idea as to the way we define ‘communities’.
"District councils are still large areas and reporting at this level will not risk concerns of privacy."
Associate Professor Nixon said New Zealand lacks a recognised system for reporting rural health data – something both he and Professor Lawrenson have highlighted in research in recent years.
“The current pandemic highlights this deficiency in the national health intelligence system.”