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Auckland Pacific health initiatives gain research funding

Auckland Pacific health initiatives gain research funding

Media Release - University of Auckland
02 November 2016

A text message programme to motivate and support healthy behaviour change in Tongan people with pre-diabetes – to help prevent the onset of diabetes – is one of the Pacific Health research initiatives to be funded next year.

The Health Research Council (HRC) has just announced 22 Pacific career development awards for 2017 with nine of those grants made to health researchers at the University of Auckland. Four of these are supporting doctoral research in Pacific Health.

Diabetes is a major health and social cost in New Zealand, particularly for Pacific peoples, and a Pacific Health Research PhD Scholarship was made to Julienne Faletau for ‘Text messaging support for Tongan people with pre-diabetes’ which provides $108,645 over three years.

“This text programme will build on SMS4BG - a text message self-management support programme for those with poorly controlled diabetes,” says Ms Faletau.

“It will also build on international diabetes prevention programmes which have been successful at preventing diabetes but are costly and resource intensive.”

Another Pacific Health Research PhD Scholarship was awarded to Caleb Marsters, for ‘Run it straight!’ – Pasifika men, mental wellbeing and elite sports’. The HRC grant is for $110,909 over three years.

Caleb will look into some of the on and off-field issues affecting the mental health of young Pacific male athletes (16 to 24 years) participating at New Zealand representative level in various sports, including rugby league, rugby union, basketball, boxing, soccer, and mixed martial arts.

“The recent suicides of young Pacific male athletes in rugby league circles in both New Zealand and Australia, and the increasing number of Pacific athletes speaking out about their own battles with depression, suggests that this group are at ‘increased-risk’ of experiencing adverse mental health outcomes and may have culturally distinct factors that impact on their mental wellbeing,” says Mr Marsters.

The research will contribute to supporting positive mental wellbeing and decreasing suicidal behaviours among young Pacific athletes.

Research into ‘The epidemiology of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) in New Zealand children’ is the subject of a Pacific Health Research PhD Scholarship, awarded to Namrata Prasad. The HRC grant is for $99,550 over three years.

Ms Prasad completed a Masters in Public Health and then worked as an epidemiologist on a typhoid project in Fiji and with the Southern Hemisphere Influenza Vaccine Effectiveness Research and Surveillance (SHIVERS) project in New Zealand.

She says, “SHIVERS stimulated my interest in investigating the epidemiology of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infection in New Zealand. RSV is a common pathogen in children, but estimates of its disease burden and economic impact in New Zealand are limited.”

The proposed project aims to better understand the impact of RSV in New Zealand using data collected through the SHIVERS project, and will not only contribute to a better understanding of local RSV burden, but also contribute to knowledge about the virus internationally.

A Pacific Health Research PhD Scholarship of $110,834 was awarded to Siobhan Tu’akoi for a three-year study of ‘Non-communicable disease risk in Rarotongan adolescents’.

Non-communicable diseases (NCD) rates are rising steadily and now account for about two-thirds of all annual deaths globally. In the Cook Islands, prevalence of NCDs and related metabolic disorders are particularly high with a recent report by the World Health Organization (WHO) estimating that NCDs contribute to 74 percent of all deaths.

NCD interventions typically focus on adult lifestyle behaviours, but evidence suggests such approaches at later life stages are largely ineffectual and early life interventions may have the greatest efficacy.

This project aims to encompass both identification of early life determinants (maternal factors) of later health risk and also potential for early life intervention strategies aimed at breaking the NCD cycle in the Cook Islands.

This approach aims for a better understanding and self-awareness by adolescents of factors underpinning their own health, behaviour and environment.

The HRC awarded a Pacific Health Masters Scholarship to Heimata Herman for a one-year study ‘to investigate health-related behaviours of Rarotongan adolescents’.

The study aims to examine experiences of Year 9 students in Rarotonga participating in the Pacific Science for Health Literacy Project, to identify facilitators and barriers to youth empowerment related to actions that support long-term health and wellbeing.

The research will contribute to improving understanding of health-related behaviours from the perspective of Cook Islands young people, thus contributing evidence towards ongoing intervention development.

Evidence suggests that Pacific peoples living in New Zealand suffer from high rates of mental illness, but are less likely to access mental health services. Pacific females are found to have higher prevalence of major depression when compared to their male counterparts.

In her 2017 Pacific Health Masters Scholarship, Sarah McLean will research ‘Depression in young Samoan females: The views of mental health service providers’.

Her study aims to examine the professional experiences of mental health service providers who are working or have worked with young Samoan females diagnosed with depression (aged from 18-24 years).

“It is hoped that findings will help to inform future mental health service delivery to better support the mental health needs of young Samoan females and potentially to contribute to Samoan and gender focused suicide prevention initiatives,” says Ms McLean.

The other HRC grants for Pacific Health research include;
Pacific Health Masters Scholarship for ‘Attitudes, knowledge, behaviours and health in Rarotongan adolescents’ over 12 months, ($20,600 grant) to Mrs Mayor Pokino.

Pacific Health Research Summer Studentships for ‘Social support among Pacific peoples’ over 10 weeks ($5000 grant) to Sarah Kapeli.
Pacific Knowledge Translation Grant for ‘A review of communicable diseases in the Pacific region’ over six months ($5000 grant) to Dr Vili Nosa.


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