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NZ’s first GeoHealth lab opens at Canterbury Uni.

17 February 2005

NZ’s first GeoHealth lab opens at Canterbury University

Research into the social and environmental determinants of health and healthcare has been given a boost with the opening of New Zealand’s first GeoHealth Laboratory at the University of Canterbury.

The GeoHealth laboratory is a joint venture between the University’s Department of Geography and the Public Health Intelligence group (PHI) of the Ministry of Health.

The collaboration provides a resource that is unique in the Southern hemisphere, according to GeoHealth Laboratory Director, Dr Jamie Pearce.

“The GeoHealth Laboratory brings together a large group of people interested in GIS (Geographic Information Systems) and health geography which is an important part of our teaching curriculum,” said Dr Pearce. “In its support of the lab the Ministry recognises the University’s pre-eminent role in the area. It will help us develop research and our research profile whilst assisting the Ministry in developing health polices to help address the key health issues faced by all New Zealanders.”

Research currently being undertaken by the lab includes studies into why New Zealand has the highest incidence of melanoma in the world, assessment of road traffic accident reduction policy initiatives and the ethnic differences in New Zealanders’ smoking habits.

“Recent research has highlighted that smoking is highest among the most socially deprived communities in New Zealand with particularly high rates among Maori,” said Dr Pearce. “Similarly, other work with Diabetes New Zealand has found that diabetes rates are significantly higher in New Zealand’s poorest communities and among Maori and Pacific Island communities.

“Other studies have found that both the exposure to and health consequences of air pollution in Christchurch are far higher in the poorest neighbourhoods in Christchurch.”

The Ministry is providing $400,000 to fund the lab for an initial three year period. A research manager will be employed to oversee the lab and to undertake specific research tasks for PHI. The money will also be used to help fund students working in health geography. Postgraduate scholarships will give students the opportunity to undertake training and short internships at PHI in Wellington.

In addition, the University will provide training to PHI specifications for GIS staff from district health boards from around the country.

The lab, which is housed in the second floor of the Geography department, will be officially opened on Friday 18 February by Vice-Chancellor Professor Roy Sharp and the Deputy Director General, Public Health Dr Don Matheson. The ceremony begins at 11am.

ENDS

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