orce of nature.
Full disclosure, she was once upon a time my landlady – but more importantly for this story, she’s the reason why you still sometimes follow a bus around Waiheke with a huge butterfly painted on its rear.
That butterfly, if you read closely, is telling you to get tested for hepatitis C – a cause so close to Rachel’s heart that last week, just ahead of Tuesday’s World Hepatitis Day, she rocked up to Waiheke Rebus Club to tell them that their Boomer generation was high risk for the illness, and that one in 100 Kiwis are expected to have it, but only half of those numbers are likely to know it.
The good folk of Rebus were apparently “gobsmacked” to have someone tell them they were the target audience for a debilitating illness which kills half a million annually around the globe but which can be tested for free and which now has a 99 per cent effective cure via an eight-week course of pills from your GP. It’s not an illness many talk about, far less do anything about. And yet hep C is an illness that, now we’re an army of five million marching behind a banner of communal good health fully aware of the benefits of a concerted testing regime, we could actually eliminate in New Zealand in the next five years.
Smacking gobs is Rachel’s stock-in-trade – and I certainly had mine smacked as well this week when she told me of her other project: curing Waiheke. Right now, she’s part of the campaign to cure a country (namely the beautiful-but-tiny Pacific nation of Niue) by testing the entire population of 1200 adults for hep B and C. The kits are already there and, once flights resume, there’s a team ready to jet in and carry out follow-up visits and treatment.
Islands are useful like that. They provide an easily quantifiable population with strict geographic borders, meaning you tend to know quite how effective your plan has been.
So, Rachel’s next working on stepping up from the 1200 adults of Niue to the 9000-odd residents of Waiheke. Someone at the Rebus meeting mooted the idea and Rachel thought, “Brilliant idea. If we can aim to be the first pest-free island, why not hep C-free as well? After we do Niue, we will have the credibility to make it happen. Not sure what adult population of Waiheke is. Will need some funding but quite do-able if we get support.”
Eminently do-able, I would have thought. So here it is. An idea planted and, with any luck, taking root.
Such ideas do often germinate well in Waiheke’s climate. It’s why we’ve got defibrillators scattered all over the place; a thriving stoat and rat-catching network; seemingly dozens of forums, pressure groups and activists intent on saving the Hauraki Gulf; a steady progression towards Dark Skies accreditation for star-gazers; and, of course, row upon row upon row upon row of French grapes growing in Southern Hemisphere climes. A little foresight plus a little geographic area seems frequently to add up to an eminently achievable scheme.
All of which – ta-daaa – brings me back to my familiar refrain over recent weeks about the importance of taking part in the current debate over Waiheke’s future. Some will debate the sense in holding “have your say” projects while we’re all somewhat dumbstruck by the global impact of this pandemic, and some might even debate whether their timing is even calculated to sneak schemes past an otherwise engaged population.
But the combination of an election, and three- and 30-year plans all up for debate provides the perfect opportunity for truly visionary thinking. For planting seeds.
There are already examples of this popping up – for example, Sophie Boladeras’ story on page eight of this week’s Gulf News about electric ferries using Matiatia as a hub for other Gulf islands, andColin Beardon’s letter to the editor on page 19 detailing how we could benefit from joining Mornington Peninsula and Noosa in Australia to become one of Unesco’s 701 Biosphere Reserves.
But there are surely dozens if not hundreds of you out there with other ideas about how Waiheke can change for the better. Now’s the time to be heard.
Just when I thought I’d had my gob smacked quite enough for one week, Rachel pelted me with one last thought: her tiny group’s promotion of drugs to treat hepatitis has contributed to it being trialled globally as a potential treatment for Covid-19. Because that’s what happens when you grow ideas – you’re never quite sure what will blossom. • James Belfield