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Massey Magazine Issue 13 November 2002

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Professor Neil Pearce...public health more than just medicine.

Public Health Research Centre

WELLINGTON - Massey's research capability in the capital takes a quantum leap forward this month with the establishment of a Centre for Public Health Research.

The centre is headed by Professor Neil Pearce, formerly Director of the Wellington Asthma Research Group within the University of Otago's Wellington School of Medicine.

At least eight of Professor Pearce's staff have already transferred to the new Centre, with more expected to follow. Up to 20 staff will eventually be employed.

Professor Pearce has been a researcher at the Wellington School of Medicine for the past 20 years. He has undertaken a wide variety of public health research, including research into asthma, cancer and occupational health. He has also worked closely with Maori and Pacific Island health researchers.

He believes the setting up of a Centre for Public Health Research under a Massey umbrella will expand the team's horizons.

"I can see a lot of opportunities at Massey ­ some people think that health is only about medicine, and in New Zealand most health research is done in medical schools. But in fact, public health is much broader than that," he says.

"It also involves environmental health, occupational health, nursing, Maori health and social sciences, plus a wide variety of research techniques. So I can see great potential for really good public health research at Massey, because many of the required components already exist."

Professor Pearce says two specific reasons prompted the move.

"One was the fact that there are some very good health researchers here already, particularly Mason Durie and Chris Cunningham's group, Pat Sullivan's group, and also people like Cindy Kiro and Patsy Watson on the Albany campus. Undoubtedly, there are others that I am just beginning to meet˜

"And secondly, I"m impressed by Massey's attitudes to research, the way it is seen as a positive thing, the way Massey seems very keen to have us and to support us. That's a great experience for me."

Professor Pearce will continue with his own asthma studies; the centre will operate on a wider canvas.

"I would imagine that over the next year we will be doing or developing research in areas such as cancer, diabetes, occupational health, socio-economic determinants of health and Pacific health research. Our Maori health research will be based alongside Chris Cunningham's group."

Professor Pearce says the establishing of such a centre is a reflection of the need to look at the "big picture" in terms of public health.

"It's important to remember the diseases of the 19th Century such as Cholera and Tb were all rapidly declining before there was any treatment or vaccine, simply because of better nutrition, housing and social conditions˜

"I believe that these same social factors - those which are being tackled in the Closing the Gaps programme - will become very important in this coming century, and the Government will require better-focused public health research as it concentrates on tackling this bigger picture. What the ministers of employment, social welfare, finance, and housing do is probably more important than what the Minister of Health does. It's easy to lose sight of that in a medical school, and it is important to be part of a university with a broad vision of health research."

Wellington principal Bruce Phillipps says the experience and reputation of Professor Pearce will greatly add to Massey's research capabilities in the capital.

"This centre comes to a campus which has a long-standing involvement in public health, through its courses in nursing, midwifery and environmental health. I look forward to bringing the work of Professor Pearce into those areas, and an expansion of our offerings in public health. I see a real synergy happening here."

College of Humanities and Social Sciences Pro Vice-Chancellor Professor Barrie Macdonald says he is delighted to welcome Professor Pearce to the College and the University

 
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