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Massey Magazine Issue 13 November 2002

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Asthma in Pacific to be studied

The University’s Centre for Public Health Research has just been awarded a $224,000 grant from the Wellcome Trust for a study of asthma in children throughout the Pacific.

Centre director Professor Neil Pearce says the grant includes a Fellowship for Dr Sunia Foliaki from the Ministry of Health in Tonga, who will be based at the centre (in Wellington) for two years.

Dr Foliaki will co-ordinate the International Study of Asthma and Allergies in Childhood (ISAAC) in the Pacific region.

Phase one of the ISAAC study involved 700,000 children in 180 centres in 60 countries, but the only Pacific countries involved were New Zealand and Australia.

The study is now being repeated to examine time trends and to include new countries. This time around, the countries included from this region are New Zealand, Australia, Tonga, Samoa, Fiji, the Cook Islands, New Caledonia, French Polynesia, and possibly a number of other countries such as the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Guam, Yap, Palau, and other countries from Micronesia.

Professor Pearce says the study will provide ideal training opportunities for the development of public health research throughout the Pacific.

“This will be the first co-ordinated health research project throughout the Pacific. Furthermore, it is being done by local researchers based in those countries. Dr Foliaki has recruited all the researchers involved, and will be co-ordinating the study.”

Professor Pearce says asthma rates are increasing worldwide. Researchers don’t know how common it is in the Pacific, because it has never been studied systematically in that region.

“However, what we think may be happening is that asthma may be getting more common in those countries as they get more western. If we can find out why, then maybe we can stop this happening.”

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