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Increasing stroke numbers in New Zealand an ‘epidemic’

Increasing stroke numbers in New Zealand an ‘epidemic’ says leading AUT researcher

Urgent measures are needed to reduce the growing number of stroke victims in New Zealand, says Professor Valery Feigin, Director of the new National Institute for Stroke and Applied Neuroscience, which is officially being launched today by Associate Minister of Health, the Hon Dr Jonathan Coleman at AUT’s North Shore Campus.

Currently costing the country over $450 million per year in hospital and rehabilitation-related costs alone, stroke incidence in New Zealand is the second highest amongst developed countries and numbers are only increasing, says Feigin.

“Unlike most other developed countries where stroke incidence has declined by 42% over the last three decades, between 1981-2003 stroke incidence in New Zealand declined by only 11% and only in New Zealand Europeans, while in Maori and Pacific people it has increased by 19% and 66% respectively.”

Affecting thousands of New Zealander’s every year; stroke - combined with traumatic brain injury - is the leading cause of disability and death in this country. Stroke mainly affects elderly people and because of New Zealand’s ageing population, the number of stroke victims are expected to rise substantially, he says.

Professor Valery Feigin heads the new National Institute for Stroke and Applied Neurosciences at AUT University. It is the only national research Institute solely dedicated to studying the epidemiology and prevention of neurological disorders, which affect one in five New Zealander’s. The Institute’s primary aim is to conduct research which improves the health and rehabilitation of people with major neurological disorders including stroke and traumatic brain injury (TBI).

With stroke incidence in Maori and Pacific people on the rise and approaching the level of numbers in low to middle income countries, Feigin’s team are currently investigating why stroke affects certain parts of the population.

“Maori and Pacific people, who constitute about one third of the New Zealand population, are disproportionately affected by stroke. Stroke incidence in these ethnic groups have increased over the last 20 years, as opposed to decreased stroke in incidence in European/Pakeha New Zealanders. This alone, however, cannot explain the situation,” says Feigin.

“Acquired brain injury – including stroke and traumatic brain injury is the leading cause of disability and death in New Zealand and has significant impact, not only on the individual, but also on the immediate family, friends and society. Accurate information about the true extent and nature of the problem is lacking both in New Zealand and internationally.”

Buoyed by the success and recognition of the Institute’s stroke and applied neuroscience research, the Institute has recently generated over $8 million of external funding, attracting two significant one-off Health Research Council grants, including one five-year ARCOS (Auckland Regional Community Stroke) IV Programme grant totalling more than $7.3 million, for measuring and reducing stroke burden in New Zealand.

“The Institute’s growth rate is on a par with a growing global interest in this area. Previously overshadowed by heart and cardiovascular disease, stroke and TBI are now seen as a problem of growing importance with massive impact on health services around the world. Our credibility as a leader in applied neuroscience research has already reached international standing.”

Event: Opening of the National Institute of Stroke and Applied Neuroscience, by the Hon Dr Jonathan Coleman, Associate Minister of Health and Derek McCormack, Vice-Chancellor, AUT University. Time & Date: Tuesday 30 November 2010, 2.00pm – 3.00pm. Location: AUT University, AF Building, North Shore Campus, 90 Akoranga Drive, Northcote, Auckland


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