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Massey Magazine Issue 13 November 2002

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The new public health dream team

Public health research in New Zealand is taking a quantum leap forward

Under a Massey University initiative announced today, three existing public health research centres within the university - the Auckland-based SHORE Centre, Te Pümanawa Hauora and the Wellington-based Centre for Public Health Research – are being joined by a fourth, a new Sleep/Wake Research Centre, as led by Professor Philipa Gander.

Professor Gander and her team were previously with the University of Otago’s Wellington School of Medicine.

The four Centres are being linked under a new Research School of Public Health. And the new School will be further strengthened with Auckland-based health policy research specialist Dr Cindy Kiro joining the Public Health team.

Professor Neil Pearce, Director of the Centre for Public Health Research, says the new School will provide exciting new opportunities for ‘multi-disciplinary and applied’ approaches to some of the major public health problems now facing New Zealand communities.

“At present we have these four externally-funded fulltime health research centres which complement each other,” says Professor Pearce. “So it’s logical to bring them together under a research school. Each centre will cooperate within the school, while continuing to develop its own speciality research areas. Together, I’m sure the cluster will make major inroads into many of the public health problems which have become prevalent in many New Zealand communities.”

Professor Pearce says most public health problems are not about to be solved by treatment through existing clinical health services. The major killers of the 19th century such as tuberculosis and cholera, for example, were virtually eliminated by improvements in housing and nutrition before any effective treatment or immunisation was available.

“ We know the major determinates of health are still social, economic and environmental factors – like housing, nutrition, and occupational exposures,” he says. “We need to address this big picture”

Professor Pearce says public health research has sometimes been regarded as the “poor relation” within medical schools. The clinical approach taken within such schools seldom allows for the flexible approach needed for public health in general, or for Maori and Pacific health in particular.

Public Health Dream Team /2 “Effective health research needs a coordinated, multi-disciplinary approach, with the results feeding directly into policy,” he says. “This is why research groups have been so keen to come to Massey – they’re in a general university, where they can take a broader approach and develop appropriate research methods to address the major public health problems. They are able to share information between their various disciplines, while also tapping into a much broader spectrum of expertise within the wider University.”

Over the past two years the CPHR has convened public health symposiums which have brought New Zealander’s leading health researchers and policy makers together, sometimes for the first time. “After identifying the major public health problems, our next step is to make a direct input into the policy-making process. Often that means supporting Government initiatives, but sometimes we have to point out where refocusing is required.”

The four centres which make up the Research School of Public Health are…. The Centre for Public Health Research headed by Professor Neil Pearce: A multi-disciplinary team of 20 researchers based in Wellington. The Centre was established in 2000. Its research programme covers all aspects of public health research, but with a focus on non-communicable diseases (respiratory disease, cancer, diabetes), occupational health, socio-economic determinants of health, Maori health and Pacific health research. Dr Cindy Kiro will be based in Auckland city, with SHORE.

The Centre for Social and Health Outcomes, Research and Evaluation (SHORE): This Auckland-based group of 25 health researchers also takes a multi-disciplinary approach, concentrating on policy relevant research within diverse population groups. SHORE is headed by Professor Sally Casswell, a social scientist with research interests in social and public health policy, particularly in relation to alcohol and other drugs. Current studies include an examination of alcohol marketing and the implications for both marketing health promotion, and alcohol policy for youth.

Te Pümanawa Hauora: The Maori health research unit within the School of Maori Studies, Te Putahi-A-Toi. It is headed by Associate Professor Chris Cunningham and has 15 researchers located at Wellington, Palmerston North and Auckland. It was established in 1993 with funding from the Health Research Council, Massey University and Te Puni Kokiri. The broad focus is on Maori health research workforce development, with projects covering tobacco smoking, mental health, diabetes, hepatitis B, child health and development, Maori health policy, health services and housing.

The Sleep/Wake Research Centre: Established at the Wellington campus on 1 February and headed by Professor Philippa Gander. The Centre specialises in research into sleep and occupational stress and fatigue. Its projects include studies in the transportation industries such as aviation and truck driving, population surveys of sleep apnoea and insomnia, and studies of sleep in pregnancy, and in medical professionals (including anaesthetists and junior doctors).

Website addresses:
Research School of Public Health
Centre for Public Health Research
SHORE Centre
Sleep/Wake Research Centre
Te Pümanawa Hauora

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