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Massey Magazine Issue 13 November 2002

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CPHR leads Pacific cancer programme

A cancer research and control programme is to be launched in the Pacific region following the success of a recent course on cancer epidemiology led by Dr Sunia Foliaki and Professor Neil Pearce, from the Centre for Public Health Research (CPHR).

Dr Foliaki and Professor Pearce held the 10 working-day training course in Tonga in May, with a ‘faculty’ of six leading cancer epidemiologists from New Zealand, Australia, Hawaii, France and the United Kingdom. The programme was funded by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and hosted by the Tongan Ministry of Health and Massey. 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 was the second leading cause of mortality in Tonga in 2002. It is a significant issue 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.

“ The IARC course was very successful, with enthusiastic contributions from the participants, and it has greatly raised awareness about cancer in the Pacific and the need to develop research capacity in this area.”

Dr Foliaki says the course also provided an opportunity to meet to discuss the development of a cancer registration programme in Tonga, with assistance from Massey, IARC, and the New Zealand Cancer Registry. The aim is to start in Tonga, and then work with the Ministries of Health in other Pacific countries to help established standardised cancer registration throughout the region, he says.

Dr Foliaki and CPHR have also recently been awarded a Wellcome Trust grant for $56,000 for an asthma self-management trial to be conducted in Tonga.

Professor Pearce says that these two projects represent the start of an ongoing collaboration between Massey and the Tongan Ministry of Health which has recently established a Research Section headed by Dr Foliaki. The 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.


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