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Letter: Rarotonga’s Death toll: Is it statistically abnormal?

Thursday 30 November 2023 | Written by Supplied | Published in Letters to the Editor, Opinion


Letter: Rarotonga’s Death toll: Is it statistically abnormal?

Dear Editor, I once again find myself having the blessed good fortune to spend multiple weeks in wonderful Rarotonga.

However, it has saddened me to observe what seems to be a statistically abnormal number of deaths on the island -albeit some being diaspora returning home to their final resting place.

In any event, by using some approximate figures, with 13,000 residents on Rarotonga, and 8 deaths per 1000 as an arbitrary start point, the island should therefore have something like 13 x 8 = 104 deaths per year, or approximately two deaths per week.

Over Covid, both here and in NZ, the media updated us daily with often alarming case numbers, and people who had passed with (seldom of) the virus.

At this point, whilst it’s quite possible for officialdom to be disingenuous with statistics, numbers themselves do not lie. This is something the likes of Serena Hunter may have alluded to already. (“Stats on vaccinated catching Covid,” 7 January, 2023, letter to the Editor.)

As such, perhaps this community might be better served by cutting officialdom out of the equation in terms of its propensity to form public opinion. Why not talk directly to each other instead? After all, I suspect even Kata’s prodigious wit might dry up significantly if not for the constant material provided him daily by the candidly acknowledged fraud and corruption.

Perhaps therefore, prudence requires less reliance on officialdom, and more upon each other. Utilise your church congregations, sports clubs, 19th hole kōreros, neighbours, social media, and letters to the Editor.

For now, my rudimentary numbers suggest two Rarotonga deaths per week should be normal. However, for effectiveness, a more accurate pre-Covid baseline is required in order to compare yesterday, and today’s apples.

If, for example, it is now averaging 2.5 deaths per week compared to two per week, that would be a statistically alarming 25 per cent increase. Just bear in mind that when researching such figures, they have a tendency to get disingenuously massaged, so go direct to the source. All deaths must be registered – just tally them up.

Unfortunately, as tragic as the passing of a loved one is, an extra person every few weeks is not immediately obvious across a busy island community of 13,000≈. However, if seemingly ever younger, and/or fitter people also appear to be succumbing, then out of a preponderance of caution, is not some reflection at least prudent?

For the record, with around 4.8 million people in 2019, it was perfectly normal for NZ to have 90≈ deaths per day pre-Covid. But according to StatsNZ, deaths per 1000 have risen by over 10 per cent post-Covid. Or approximately 10 extra deaths per day -that is a huge amount of extra grief. Why?

Finally, in my observation, Cook Islands media have a refreshingly blunt approach to public discourse. So how about asking them to provide a weekly update graphic comparing Rarotonga stats for the week across 2019, 2020, 2021, 2022, and 2023? It’s the old business adage, ‘if you can’t measure, you can’t manage.’ And after all, if officialdom has nothing to hide, there should be no issue. Therefore I’d suggest tracking total deaths, infant mortality, suicide, and road fatalities, all given as X/1000 to remove population fluctuation bias. Is there a pattern of increase pre to post Covid? If so, why?

“Statistics are like bikinis. What they reveal is suggestive, but what they conceal is vital.” – Aaron Levenstein

Shaun Robinson (Robo)

New Zealand

Reply – I agree that numbers do not lie because Mr Robinson himself have not lived in the Cook Islands long enough to know the lifestyle and the unhealthy choices that people make for themselves. In 2021, 5500 people in the Cook Islands were diagnosed for non-communicable diseases which many have multiple comorbidities themselves. Numbers also do not lie as to how many people that government supports to be referred to New Zealand for further tertiary treatment. It is for this reason that TMO with the support of government and development partners is rolling out the Healthy and Smoke Free Islands initiatives to all Islands in the Southern Group to date with the team in Aitutaki this (last) week. The data from the screening for the four islands (Atiu, Mitiaro, Mauke, Mangaia and now Aitutaki) and all the schools on Rarotonga is concerning. This is what we will strive to improve the health and wellbeing of our children today so they don’t in the same situation that we face today, as your writer says that more people are dying. NCD is the silent killer not only to our people but worldwide.  All the screenings done for the islands and the schools has been presented to the islands themselves and they are well aware of the health situations – yes numbers do not lie.

Bob Williams

Secretary of Health


graham roper on 01/12/2023

“The numbers do not lie”. Yet again the first comment made by Williams is a personal attack on an individual implying ‘don’t live in the Cook Islands so wouldn’t know the reality’. Actual causes of deaths in the Islands is difficult to establish as there is no pathologist to undertake full post-mortems. (Blood test and an X-ray don’t reveal much). More that $5 million given to the TMO by Japan but no evidence on spending ( can’t lie if no numbers produced) The dollar numbers spent on travel to conferences around the world by the SOH Williams were more than enough to provide much needed pay increases to medical staff, numbers don’t lie. Oversea travel costs by the SOH and the Minister of health to events that had no benefit to the people of the CI could have funded 2 community nurses to assist people with diabetes, in their homes, to manage their on going health, the numbers do not lie. The $1.6 million that showed as surplus in the TMO financial accounts of 2021/22 is unacceptable, the numbers don’t lie. It’s time the ex police officer resigned as SOH due to a complete lack of knowledge on how to understand what the “numbers that do not lie” mean for the people of the Cook Islands.