New appointment advances Pacific
Cancer and asthma are major public health problems
for Pacific peoples, but health research takes a significant step
forward with a new research appointment.
Dr Sunia Foliaki has been appointed as a Pacific Health Postdoctoral
His three-year fellowship, worth $360,000, is funded by the Health
Research Council of New Zealand. He will be based at the Centre
for Public Health Research at Massey University’s Wellington
campus, says Centre Director, Professor Neil Pearce.
Dr Foliaki is in the final stages of completing a PhD on asthma
in the Pacific, and will focus on cancer in Pacific populations
for his Postdoctoral Fellowship.
Professor Pearce says non-communicable diseases including cancer
and asthma are major public health problems for Pacific peoples
residing both in the Pacific and in New Zealand.
Cancer accounts for more than 70 per cent of health referral budgets
from Pacific Islands to New Zealand. The principal donor to some
of these referral budgets is the New Zealand government. As there
have been few studies on cancer it is essential that basic cancer
epidemiological research be conducted if we are to implement appropriate
strategies for control of cancer and other non-communicable diseases
in both the Pacific and New Zealand.
Dr Foliaki says cancer is a significant and growing problem in
the Pacific but relatively little is known about the magnitude
of the problem, the risk factors or the potential for prevention.
“Over the past 25 years a great deal of research on non-communicable
diseases has been conducted throughout the South Pacific, but there
have been few studies of cancer,” says Dr Foliaki.
He has established a cancer registry within Tonga’s health
ministry, and assisted in establishing and upgrading cancer registries
in the Cook Islands, Niue and Fiji. He will establish registries
in further countries, as well as produce the first analysis of
cancer incidence in these countries. The incidence rates will be
compared to those in Pacific people in New Zealand. In addition,
Dr Foliaki will be conducting case-control studies of the causes
of breast cancer and gastric cancer in the Pacific, and factors
that affect cancer survival.
Dr Foliaki says systems for data collection in most Pacific countries
including Tonga are often non-standardised, making comparisons
between countries difficult. Nevertheless the available data clearly
identifies cancer as a leading cause of morbidity and an increasing
health burden. There is data indicating that cancer has been the
second leading cause of mortality in most Pacific islands countries
for the past 5 to 10 years.