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Victoria University gets public health backing

The health of New Zealanders is to be put under the microscope through a major collaboration between the Ministry of Health and Victoria University.

The University will today (Thursday November 21) launch two collaborative ventures with the Ministry’s Public Health Intelligence Group – the Public Health Intelligence Applications Laboratory in the School of Earth Sciences and the Scholarships in Statistics Initiative in the School of Mathematical and Computing Sciences. The University and Ministry are also collaborating on a major conference to be held in Wellington in early December.

The Ministry’s funding will involve the installation of a suite of sophisticated computer equipment and software to map and analyse health needs and the spread of diseases and the creation of a series of scholarships and prizes in statistics at the undergraduate and postgraduate level worth about $30,000 a year for the next decade. The total package, spread over several years, is worth about $500,000.

The Ministry's manager of Public Health Intelligence, Dr Barry Borman, said he was delighted to be working with Victoria University on two such exciting new ventures.

"They will enhance the opportunities for collaborative work with our colleagues at Victoria and enable a sharing resources and secondments.

"These initiatives are also critical to stimulating the interest in the analysis of public health issues, and assisting in the development of the workforce to carry out these analyses.''

PHI carries out the Ministry's statutory responsibility to monitor the health of the population. It analyses four work streams: geographic information systems applied to health, surveys, modelling and forecasting, and surveillance.

Dr Peter Donelan, Head of the School of Mathematical and Computing Sciences, said the scholarships would help create a pool of young statisticians with expertise in public health issues.

“The students who receive these generous scholarships will go on to be the leaders in the study of public health statistics. If we want to comprehend the critical public health issues New Zealand faces, we need to invest in developing the people with the skills to do that and that’s just what these scholarships will do.”

Dr Donelan said the Ministry’s funding of such statistical analysis was vital if the Government, Ministry and district health boards were make sure they were putting services where they were needed.

“The public is constantly being swamped with advice about how to live a healthy life. But if we are to know whether these messages about eating less, eating better and exercising more are having any measurable benefit or whether we’re getting sicker as a nation, then we need the statistical and mapping information to help us know why we’re getting sick and where we’re getting sick and then plan for the future.”

School of Earth Sciences Head, Professor Philip Morrison, welcomed the Ministry’s backing which recognised the School’s expertise in the use of geographical information technology (GIS).

“We can use these systems to map and explore public health issues at a range of scales, for example looking at regional and local differences in disease rates, and analysing whether these differences might be explained by the use of preventive services such as immunisation, or linked with aspects of the physical environment, such as water quality. Such information is clearly important for the Ministry and for district health boards.”

Professor Morrison said the GeoHealth 2002 Conference would be held at the University’s Kelburn campus from December 3-5.

“Conferences about health and GIS tend to focus on and be organised around issues of concern to researchers. This conference aims to create a focus for health decision-makers so they can better understand what the technology can provide in helping them make decisions and so researchers can better understand the information needs of decision-makers.”

The Ministry’s scholarships are facilitated through the Victoria University of Wellington Foundation.

Media are invited to attend the launch at 4pm on Thursday 21 November 2002 in the Hunter Council Chamber, Level 2, Hunter Building, Victoria University, Kelburn Parade, Wellington.
School of Mathematical and Computing Science: Dr Donelan 04 463 5659
School of Earth Sciences: Professor Morrison: 04 463 5645
Ministry of Health: Marama Ellis, 04 496-2067

Issued by Victoria University of Wellington Public Affairs
For further information please contact or phone +64-4-463-5873

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