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‘Glaring Gap’ In Health Research Affects Asian, Ethnic Minority Groups

Health research in Aotearoa is failing to keep up with our growing Asian, Middle Eastern, Latin American and African populations, leaving policy makers potentially unaware of pressing issues, a University of Auckland study shows.

Research is largely focused on cardiovascular disease and vitamin deficiencies, ignoring the broader health issues and experiences of these groups, according to an analysis of scientific papers published from 2010 to 2019, published in the New Zealand Medical Journal on Sept. 17.

“A lack of research may be a warning sign that health needs are going unmet,” says Associate Professor Rachel Simon-Kumar, co-director of the Centre for Asian and Ethnic Minority Health Research and Evaluation in the university’s medical faculty.

A study of peer-reviewed publications in national and international academic journals identified 115 articles over 2010-2019, a period when minority ethnic groups swelled from 12 percent to 18 percent of New Zealand’s population. “The paucity of research on Asian and ethnic minority groups was surprising and unexpected,” says lead author Annie Chiang.

Most studies focused on Indian and Chinese populations, with little research on smaller groups. African people were the focus of eight publications, while Sri Lankan, Middle-Eastern, and Latin American groups had fewer than five studies each.

“The concentration of research in two key areas, cardiovascular diseases and vitamin deficiencies, demonstrates a glaring gap in evidence across the whole range of diseases, treatments, and experiences within the health system,” says Associate Professor Roshini Peiris-John, the other director of the centre.

The researchers’ suggestions for improvement included targeted funding for research and urgent improvements in the training, recruitment, and retention of Asian and minority ethnic researchers in New Zealand universities and health research agencies.

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