Dr Litili ‘Ofanoa, Director of Health in the Tongan Ministry
of Health, and Professor Nigel Long
sign a letter of understanding
between the University and the Tongan Ministry of Health.
Health research deal signed
Assistant Vice-Chancellor (Research)
Professor Nigel Long travelled to Tonga in November to sign a
letter of understanding between the University and the Tongan
Ministry of Health to conduct joint research projects in Tonga.
The two joint projects to date involve collaborations between the
Centre for Public Health Research (CPHR), headed by Professor Neil
Pearce, and the new Research Section headed by Dr Sunia Foliaki
in the Tongan Ministry of Health. The joint research programme
will focus on cancer and asthma research initially, but will include
all aspects of non-communicable disease, with a particular emphasis
on building health research capacity.
The first project involves cancer research. It was launched with
a two-week cancer epidemiology course in Tonga in May, funded by
the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which is
a WHO agency. It was jointly hosted by the University and the Tongan
Ministry of Health, with a ‘faculty’ of six leading
cancer epidemiologists from New Zealand, Australia, Hawaii, France
and the United Kingdom. There were more than 90 applications for
the course from 27 countries, with 46 being accepted. Participants
were mainly from the Pacific, but some came from as far as Nepal,
Pakistan and Scotland.
Dr Foliaki says cancer has been identified as the second leading
cause of mortality in Tonga for 2002. “It is a significant
problem in the Pacific, but little is known about the magnitude
of the problem, the key risk factors or the potential for prevention,” he
says. “In the past 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.
“The IARC course was very successful, with enthusiastic contributions
from the participants, and has greatly raised awareness about cancer
in the Pacific and the need to develop research capacity in this
“We have received a grant of $125,000 from the Health Research
Council of New Zealand to get started on a cancer epidemiology
programme. The first step is the development of cancer registration
in Tonga, with assistance from Massey, IARC, and the New Zealand
Cancer Registry. We started in Tonga in August, and will now work
with the Ministries of Health in other Pacific countries to help
establish standardised cancer registration throughout the region,
and to conduct a study of breast cancer in Tonga, Samoa, Fiji and
The second project is collaborative research on asthma self-management,
funded by the Wellcome Trust. The project aims to implement an
asthma self-management plan in Tonga in order to reduce asthma
deaths and severe asthma attacks.
The study involves an asthma self management intervention on the
main island of Tongatapu, with a delayed intervention in the outer
islands of Vava’u. Dr Foliaki reports that the study was
launched in September and is going well with enthusiastic participation
from the community.
10 December, 2004