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Massey Magazine Issue 13 November 2002

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Dr Sunia Foliaki Fighting cancer in the Pacific

Two leading New Zealand cancer researchers will head the first training programme to focus on stemming the rising rate of cancer in smaller Pacific nations.

The 10-working day training course will be held in Tonga in May next year, under the direction of
Dr Sunia Foliaki (pictured) and Professor Neil Pearce from the Massey University’s Wellington-based Centre for Public Health Research. It will have a ‘faculty’ of six leading cancer epidemiologists from around the world. The programme will be funded by the International Agency for Research on Cancer and participation will be free. It is intended for clinicians, public health specialists and other health professionals who work or intend to work in cancer prevention and control.

Dr Foliaki and Professor Pearce say their participation represents the first step in a programme of cancer control they are developing in the Pacific

The programme will fill a gap and meets a growing need. Dr Foliaki says cancer has been identified as the second leading cause of mortality in Tonga for 2002 and is a significant and problem in the Pacific but relatively little is known about the magnitude of the problem, the key risk factors or the potential for prevention. “Over the last 25 years or so a great deal of research on non-communicable disease has been conducted throughout the South Pacific, but there have been few studies of cancer.

“Despite the lack of existing standardization and diagnostic facilities and hence a reasonably comparable system of data comparisons, there are clear indications that the burden of cancer will increase in the Pacific. Factors include demographic transitions, increases in tobacco use; and continuing lifestyle changes including urbanization, diet and westernization. The shift from communicable to an increase in non-communicable diseases including cancer means a parallel shift in health service priorities.”

He says equally important are the implications of integrated prevention and control through reduction and modifications of risk factors common to cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer.

Dr. Sunia Foliaki is on a Wellcome Trust Fellowship, and is a Visiting Research Fellow with the Centre for Public Health Research. He is also involved in implementing the International Study of Asthma and Allergies in Childhood in Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, Niue, Cook Islands and Tokelau and initiating other non-communicable diseases research. In collaboration with the centre, Dr Foliaki has been seeking assistance for further public health research on cancer in the Pacific.

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