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
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.