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Young nurses creating awareness of rising syphilis cases

'Alakihihifo Vailala

Nurses John Fa’ukafa and Tiahn Beuth-Pukepuke reaching out to vulnerable people as Auckland syphilis cases rise sharply.

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

A day in the life of nurses John Fa’ukafa and Tiahn Beuth-Pukepuke at Auckland Sexual Health Services and Pohutukawa Clinic starts at 9am.

For Fa’ukafa, the passion to work in the space of sexual health services began when he was a curious youth.

“I had rheumatic heart fever as a kid, so I was in and out of hospital a lot.”

Fa’ukafa says his interest in going further into sexual health services came after gender and sexuality studies.

Earlier this month he was awarded Young Nurse of the Year 2023 at the New Zealand Nurses Organisation Toputanga Tapuhi Kaitiaki Aotearoa (NZNO) annual general meeting.

“My mum cried [when she found out].”

Fa’ukafa, who is of Tongan descent, is one of the first Pasifika male nurses in Aotearoa New Zealand to provide after-hours forensic nursing care.

He also champions being an openly takatāpui (gay) Pasifika man in nursing and doesn’t shy away from breaking social stigma through being courageous and resilient.


Fa’ukafa says: “Destigmatising, that’s my favourite part of the job. When patients come in with preconceived notions on sexual health, I love to defeat those myths.”

Beuth-Pukepuke, of Māori descent, who was awarded runner-up at the Young Nurse of the Year award, works alongside Fa’ukafa.

She says nursing wasn’t her first option.

“My father was a big inspiration as to why I became a nurse. He was in and out of hospital throughout my teenage years,” she says.

Beuth-Pukepuke recently joined the syphilis contact tracing team to help keep up with the increased cases in Auckland.

She manages outreach testing for the community in West and South Auckland, with the aim of building stronger relationships within the wider Auckland region.

Babies dying from syphilis

Beauth-Pukepuke says there has been a 40 per cent increase in cases in Auckland within the past year: “And now we’re seeing more māmās with the infection and we’re now seeing more severe cases of babies dying from syphilis.”

Beuth-Pukepuke’s work through outreach testing is to help assist Aotearoa New Zealand’s most vulnerable populations where access isn’t easy.

Statistics show that, back in 2022, syphilis case numbers were twice as high among Māori women, with 64 cases, compared with other ethnicities at 29 cases.

Between 2016 and 2022, 21 Māori, seven Pasifika, and three European babies were reported to have syphilis, a total of 31 cases.

Fa’ukafa and Beuth-Pukepuke say the holistic core of their mahi as nurses is to help assist the Māori, Pasifika and wider Aotearoa New Zealand communities through their health services by creating awareness.

Hero image: John Fa’ukafa is one of the first Pasifika male nurses in New Zealand to provide after-hours forensic nursing care. Photo/Facebook

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