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Director of Public Health To Join WHO

Director of Public Health to join World Health Organization

NEW Zealand's Director of Public Health Dr Colin Tukuitonga is taking on a new role with the World Health Organization (WHO), leading its research agenda for the global strategy against obesity.

As Director of Public Health for the last two years, Dr Tukuitonga has played a key role in raising the awareness of public health issues affecting New Zealanders, such as obesity and nutrition. But he says it's time for new challenges.

"I'm excited about helping make a difference at an international level, particularly given obesity is now a global problem. It's going to be particularly challenging coordinating such a large global response, and helping develop policies that will work for different countries, societies, and cultures," says Dr Tukuitonga.

Dr Tukuitonga, who will leave the Ministry in September, will lead the WHO's global research agenda to control obesity. According to the WHO, there are more than 300 million adults worldwide who are are clinically obese. Dr Tukuitonga will help develop a non-communicable diseases five-year global plan, policy interventions and preventions to reduce obesity, and secure a global fund to develop obesity research.

Dr Tukuitonga joined the Ministry in August 2001 as a leader in public and Pacific health. He says people's attitudes toward public health messages, such as healthy eating and exercising more, cannot be changed overnight but he hopes that he has helped plant the seeds for change.

"I believe there's a greater awareness now in New Zealand of the risks of obesity and the effects of not living a healthy lifestyle. The Ministry led the way with Healthy Eating, Healthy Action, a national framework for action against obesity, bad eating habits and lack of exercise. It encourages support and buy-in from NGO's, the Government and individuals, and it's also the kind of strategy which can be useful to draw-on for the global response to curbing obesity," says Dr Tukuitonga.

He is also proud of work gone into developing a National Immunisation Register, expected to be implemented nationwide by the end of next year.

Deputy Director-General of Public Health Dr Don Matheson, says Dr Tukuitonga is one of New Zealand's most respected public health professionals. And Director-General of Health, Dr Karen Poutasi, says Dr Tukuitonga has made an "extraordinary contribution" to public health in this country.

"He's shown enormous commitment to lifting the profile of major public health issues affecting New Zealanders today such as cancer, obesity, and nutrition. He's also made an excellent leader throughout the Ministry's response to SARS," says Dr Poutasi.

"His appointment is a tribute to his expertise which has gained high respect in the global arena. While he'll no longer be occupying one of our desks, we look forward to continuing to work with him on obesity because it's an issue that affects all countries," says Dr Poutasi.

"It's great to see our public health leaders making their mark overseas. Leading New Zealand public health academic, Dr Robert Beaglehole, was recently appointed Director of the Evidence and Information for Policy Cluster for the WHO."

Before joining the Ministry, Dr Tukuitonga was a Harkness Fellow in health care policy in the United States. In his new role, he will be based at WHO headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland.

Meanwhile, the WHO is benefiting from the expertise of other another Ministry employee. Dr Douglas Lush, the Ministry's senior communicable diseases advisor, and more recently SARS clinical director, is on three-month secondment to the WHO.

Dr Lush is supporting the WHO's SARS Scientific Advisory Committee by undertaking a systematic review of SARS literature and field reports towards a global summary of surveillance and research needs. He's also providing technical input into revising SARS case definitions, and developing a global SARS surveillance framework.

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