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‘Making a difference’ for Pacific health

9 June 2005

‘Making a difference’ aim of Pacific health research fono

‘Research for a Change’ is the theme of a two-day Pacific health research fono commencing in Auckland today.

Organised by the Health Research Council of New Zealand, the Pacific Health Research Fono will discuss the latest Pacific health research outcomes including investigations into diabetes, suicide, obesity, heart disease and alcohol-related

The Fono will also look at ‘making research relevant’; how uptake of research findings into policy and practice might be improved, and how knowledge gained through research processes can be passed on. It will also focus on intervention-based research, in order to immediately and tangibly improve the health status of Pacific peoples.

‘Research for a Change’ will be opened by the Right Honourable Helen Clark. The event will also see the launch the HRC Pacific Health Research Strategic Discussion Document. This document will lay down the basis for a strategic plan, which will set objectives for Pacific health research over the next 10 years.

Dr Stephen Halapua, Director of the Pacific Islands Development Programme at the University of Hawaii, and Dr Anne-Marie Tupuola of Columbia University, New York and Independent Scholar in London will deliver keynote speeches.

Two examples of research featuring at the Fono are Dr Etuate Saafi’s investigation into diabetes, and Dr Jemaima Tiatia’s Pacific youth suicide study.

Type 2 diabetes affects over 185 million people worldwide, and can cause blindness, amputation, and early death. Diabetes is responsible for 1200 deaths a year in New Zealand. It is an area in which Pacific peoples share the unequal burden of disease compared to non-Pacific peoples.

An HRC postdoctoral fellow, Dr Saafi’s research aims to improve understanding of the disease mechanism involved in type 2 diabetes, and identify the key hormones involved to assess their therapeutic potential. This research has resulted in a new therapy for diabetic heart disease.

Dr Jemaima Tiatia’s research into suicide amongst young Pacific people aimed to discover risk factors for suicide amongst Pacific youth, and to follow their ‘reasons to live’ after a suicide attempt.

There is a high prevalence of risk factors for suicide amongst Pacific people, and the suicide rate for Pacific peoples is increasing.

Dr Tiatia’s work shows that while contributing factors were similar between Pacific young people and other groups, there were also distinct differences. Family and cultural responsibilities, anger and anger management, lack of communication, harsh physical discipline and sexual abuse all featured as contributing factors.

Dr Tiatia also examined experimental resiliency and protective factors as possible suicide prevention strategies.

Another aspect of the Fono is to encourage Pacific young people to see research as a career, which is actively supported by the HRC through its Pacific Career Development Award scheme.

HRC Chief Executive Dr Bruce Scoggins says the Fono aims to showcase the latest research both as a celebration and an inspiration to others.

‘‘The fono will bring together representatives from all over the Pacific and a breadth of New Zealand organisations, aiding in the achievement of ‘Research for a Change’ – research that is making a difference in improving the health status of Pacific peoples,’ says Dr Scoggins.

A ‘Great Debate’ is scheduled for the conference dinner. ‘By Pacific, for Pacific research is still sexy’ will be facilitated by Fa’amatuainu Tino Pereira. Otherwise known as Pacific Governance research, ‘by Pacific for Pacific’ research is viewed by many as the ideal. The debate will decide if this is still the case, or if this approach is limiting Pacific health research.

The Fono is taking place at the Langham Hotel (previously the Sheraton), Auckland.

The Fono has received generous support from the following organisations: ACC, Pacific Islands Heartbeat Programme, Heart Foundation, Ministry of Social Development, Ministry of Health, Foundation for Research, Science and Technology, Ministry of Research, Science and Technology, ALAC, Ethnic Communications, Ministry of Pacific Island Affairs, SPEAR, Environmental Science and Research Institute, Counties-Manukau DHB.


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