A push by Māori health providers saw Māori in Taranaki tested for Covid-19 at one-and-a-half times the rate of non-Māori as the pandemic hit.
Almost 70 Māori per thousand residents were swabbed by mid-June last year, compared with just 47 per thousand non-Māori.
Taranaki District Health Board chief advisor for Maori health, Ngawai Henare, said there was huge anxiety as Covid hit, given the devastating effect of the Spanish Flu epidemic on Māori in 1918.
She said the DHB quickly developed contact with Māori leaders and health providers to spread information to ease concerns, and that the quickest way to get Covid tests done was clear.
"Fairly quickly it became apparent that the providers had excellent reach into the communities."
She said Māori had the reach to get testing into Māori communities, backed by the DHB coordinators.
"The Māori providers would go to the DHB main swabbing centres and uplift the number of swabs they wanted and PPE and then go and deliver the outreach testing and at the end of the day they would deliver the swabs back to the DHB centres."
Ngāti Ruanui, Ngā Ruahine and the health provider Tui Ora held clinics on their premises and temporary clinics in Pātea, Manāia, Ōpunakē, Waitara, Urenui and Waverley.
Some were tested at home and others in rest homes.
Henare said the Ministry of Health took the DHB layer of bureaucracy away and funded the local providers directly, while the DHB relaxed its contractual expectations, creating a high level of trust.
She said the DHB had provided all the supplies and backup Māori needed to deliver the swabs but could never have reached so deeply into the community by itself.
"It was just the whole Māori kaupapa machine that came together to bring about the results."
But the co-leader of the Māori Party, Debbie Ngarewa-Packer, who was then the kaiarataki for Ngāti Ruanui said it was important to highlight that nothing Taranaki Māori did with the DHB went easy.
"We had to push for swabs, we had to push to test those who were asymptomatic and we had to push for scale… including going to Dr Bloomfield to bring attention that we weren't getting the scale of test swabs to remove doubt about Covid in our community."
Ngarewa-Packer said in the end there had been a lot more acceptance by the DHB that they could have done things better and that they wanted to improve.
"It's really important that they learn… The culture that they took amongst a pandemic, in a community with high disparity to contend with, was poor. They performed poorly at the beginning and just imagine those communities that don't have strong leaders advocating."
By mid-June no Māori and 16 non-Māori had tested positive for Covid-19.
The DHB's Ngawai Henare said there had been gaps in communications in south Taranaki and some vulnerabilities in relationships between providers and iwi, and iwi and the DHB.
But she said relationships were now positive between TDHB staff and Maori providers, and supportive arrangements for COVID testing.