He’s known as one of the public faces of the Covid-19 pandemic in New Zealand, but Michael Baker’s regular appearances on TV are causing confusion across the ditch.
People in Sydney are confusing the University of Otago epidemiologist with his identical twin brother, David, a GP in central Sydney.
Dr David Baker’s patients keep asking him why he’s always appearing on New Zealand television to talk about Covid-19, not realising the brothers are twins.
“They think he’s suddenly moonlighting as a commentator on Covid,” Michael said, laughing.
“His patients are quite often asking him, ‘David why are you appearing on TV saying all those strange things?’ Or they say: ‘I saw you on TV the other night David, what were you doing there?'”
He said David sees the funny side of it.
“He has found it quite amusing,” Michael said.
“Being a twin, identical, all your life, you’re so used to coincidences and mistaken identity, that after a while it doesn’t really mean anything to you.”
Michael and David Baker are the eldest of four children. They went to high school together in Hamilton and medical school together in Auckland.
“There were lots of different situations of mistaken identity,” Michael said.
“I’m sure we used it to our advantage. At school, we were just the Baker boys. A lot of the time people wouldn’t really bother working out if it was Michael or David, it would just be ‘one of the Baker boys’. As a twin, it doesn’t worry you.”
Michael and David’s lives headed in different directions in the late 80s. Michael relocated to Wellington to work at the Ministry of Health’s office in Parliament where he led a number of projects including the New Zealand Needle Exchange Programme. David moved to Sydney, where he’s been ever since.
New Zealand was the first country in the world to establish a national needle exchange programme, Michael said.
The programme includes a network of “safe spaces” – dedicated needle exchanges and pharmacies – where the injecting drug-using population can access clean, safe needles and syringes.
The outlets also provide for the safe disposal of used needles and syringes.
“It seemed like a logical thing to do,” he said.
“I think it still applies to drug policy now, that harm reduction is absolutely the way. Putting people’s public health ahead of certain prejudices really works. That’s what got me interested in public health.”
Michael, recognised publicly for his expert commentary on the Government’s Covid-19 response, is also fascinated with the phenomena of twinning.
“I’ve always been quite interested with multiple birthing. Identical twining it extremely rare in the animal world. They are still an unexplained phenomenon.”
He even held a twin conference in Wellington in 1990 where hundreds of sets of twins gathered.
“I think it might be the first and only one we’ve had. We have several hundred sets of twins turn up in Wellington. That was quite entertaining.”
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