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Investment in research to explore quake health impacts

3 October 2011

HRC and the Canterbury Medical Research Foundation invest in new research to explore the health impacts of the Canterbury earthquakes

The Health Research Council of New Zealand (HRC) and the Canterbury Medical Research Foundation (CMRF) have made a joint investment into five research projects, which explore the health implications of the Canterbury earthquakes.

The five projects have been funded through a funding partnership between the HRC and the CMRF, which was created to provide opportunities for researchers to undertake translational research projects, which investigate the impact of the Canterbury earthquakes on health and health services.

“Each of the research proposals selected has the potential to generate important knowledge which will be of national and international significance,” says Dr Robin Olds, HRC Chief Executive.

“This knowledge will contribute towards a greater understanding of the health implications of seismic events and other disasters, and will be of tremendous value in planning both current and future health systems’ responses to disasters in Canterbury, elsewhere in New Zealand and internationally,” says Guy Johnson, Director, CMRF.

The recently funded projects will focus on important health issues arising from the Canterbury earthquakes, including a project by Professor Michael Ardagh from the Canterbury District Health Board, whose research will be the first in the world to overview a complete health care response to a major earthquake, where the entire response was from local providers who were also affected by the disaster.

Dr Cameron Lacey from the University of Otago, Christchurch, will explore the links between stress, genes and certain heart problems in a project involving a cohort of 30 patients.

Dr David McBride from the University of Otago, Dunedin, will conduct research into the demands faced by first response workers, including fire fighters, St John, military and utility workers, construction and demolition workers, the Police, Māori wardens, Red Cross, Non Government Organisations and teachers. The project will investigate how these first responders to a natural disaster cope and what enables them to perform their roles.

Dr Kathy Peri from The University of Auckland aims to explore the on-going impact of the Christchurch earthquakes on older peoples’ health in primary health care, one year post the Christchurch earthquakes.

Ms Louise Thornley, from Quigley and Watts will examine the factors influencing community resilience and how these factors might be encouraged to better prepare communities for future disasters, and to provide advice to public health, social services and policy makers on how to build community resilience.

Details of funding approved by the HRC Board and the CMRF, and offered to research teams, are as follows:

Earthquake Database Establishment and Analysis

18 months, $119,575

Principal Investigator: Professor Michael Ardagh, Canterbury District Health Board,

(03) 378 6260

Project Summary:

Collecting and exploring a Canterbury wide de-identified database of those people who were injured and unwell in the first three days following the February 22nd 2011 Christchurch earthquake will allow us and other researchers to understand the full extent of the health implications. The project would be a first in the world to overview a complete heath care response to a major earthquake where the entire response was from local providers who were also affected by the disaster. Collation of a single, comprehensive database of the burden of injury and illness from the earthquake, and the health system response, would be unique internationally and would allow sharing of knowledge. Lessons learnt from this experience will be of significant importance in planning future disaster responses in Canterbury, elsewhere in New Zealand, and internationally.

Psychological Stress and Genetic Associations with Stress Cardiomyopathy

12 months, $104,918

Principal Investigator: Dr Cameron Lacey, University of Otago, Christchurch’

(03) 378 6260

Project Summary:

The earthquakes in Christchurch triggered clusters of stress cardiomyopathy. The resulting well characterised, homogenous, cohort of 30 patients is unprecedented. Stress cardiomyopathy is a normally uncommon disorder that has been associated with significant earthquakes but usually occurs in sporadic fashion. The exact aetiology of stress cardiomyopathy remains unknown. Although a few candidate genes have been studied, no convincing cause has been uncovered. We propose to use the new technique of exome sequencing, where all coding regions in the human genome are rapidly sequenced, to identify underlying mutations in these patients. Our pilot study after the September 4th earthquake found that women with stress cardiomyopathy were the most psychologically robust. However the mechanism of the interaction between the experience of stress

associated with the earthquake and the resulting cardiomyopathy remains unknown. Our primary hypothesis is that stress cardiomyopathy is a rare Mendelian disease that is exposed with acute major stress.

Occupational Health of Front Line Workers in Christchurch

18 months, $120,000

Principal Investigator: Dr David McBride, University of Otago, Dunedin

(03) 479 1100

Project Summary:

The role of first responders in mitigating the effects of earthquakes is vital. Unlike other natural disasters, earthquakes are not a single event. It is important to understand the demands faced by these workers, how they cope, and what enables them to perform their roles. This research focuses on: Fire fighters, St John, Military, Utility workers, Construction/ Demolition workers, Police, Maori Wardens, Red Cross, NGOs and teachers. It will combine a repeated cross sectional survey of workers and their family members with prospective data from work and health records and a comparison group. The study will address a range of post-traumatic conditions and outcome measures including: (1) the first responders’ relationships (peer, family, social/cultural factors); (2) self-confidence and self-esteem; (3) team and group cohesiveness; (4) coping skills; (5) subsequent work performance and satisfaction; (6) psycho-morbidity. The study will document the long term trajectory of adjustment, recovery and occupational health outcomes.

Impact of Christchurch Earthquakes on Health of Older People

18 months, $105,700

Principal Investigator: Dr Kathy Peri, The University of Auckland,

(09) 923 1112

Project Summary:

With an increasing ageing population and an increasing risk of natural disasters being reported by scientists around the world a better understanding of the implications of these facts and the risks for older people need to be made explicit in this under researched area. In addition recent scientific evidence has reported that New Zealand and in particular Canterbury will continue to have sizable earthquakes and aftershocks for several more years. This study aims to explore the on-going impact of the Christchurch earthquakes on older peoples’ health in primary health care one year post Christchurch earthquakes. It is proposed to re-interview the 1,095 older adults enrolled in the BRIGHT trial to investigate their health status in the recovery phase using survey methods and longitudinal analyses to investigate the health effects of the earthquakes. The main health outcomes will include quality of life, health and functional status, primary health care service utilisation.

Building Community Resilience: Learning from the Canterbury Earthquake Response

18 months, $120,000

Principal Investigator: Ms Louise Thornley, Quigley and Watts Ltd,

(04) 384 2049

Project Summary:
The Canterbury earthquakes have had many effects on health, including mental health and wellbeing. Good mental health helps communities in recovery after disasters like earthquakes. Research shows the wellbeing of individuals is helped by socially supportive

communities, and that local community involvement with disaster recovery efforts can speed up the process of recovery. The research aims to learn what factors helped community resilience in Christchurch communities, including Maori communities, how these factors might be encouraged to better prepare communities for future disasters, and to provide advice to public health and social services and policymakers on how to build community resilience. The research will use case studies involving community workshops and interviews to seek information from various neighbourhoods and community initiatives. This research will provide information on how health and other services can work with communities after a disaster, and how they can work to prepare for future disasters.


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