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Five Pacific researchers have received 2021  from the Health Research Council (HRC).

The HRC’s annual career development awards foster and sustain New Zealand’s health research workforce. In 2020, more than $13 million was announced for researchers across three categories – General, Māori Health, and Pacific Health.

Since 1990, the government’s principal funder of health research has invested approximately $1.7 billion in research aimed at making a difference to the lives of New Zealanders. The HRC is particularly proud of its commitment to Māori and Pacific health researchers whose work has helped shape and influence health policies, while addressing inequities and social disparities.

Pacific mental health: Integrating Pacific world views and practices
Dr Sione Vaka, a senior lecturer in Nursing, received a Sir Thomas Davis Te Patu Kite Rangi Ariki Health Research Fellowship, which supports emerging Pacific researchers who have demonstrated outstanding potential to develop into highly skilled researchers.

The project aims to develop a Pacific-centred mental health model of care that weaves Pacific ethnic knowledge, worldviews and practices that are culturally appropriate for Pacific peoples in New Zealand, Tonga, Fiji and Niue.

Migrant Pacific peoples have been found to have a higher prevalence of mental illness than the general population, and New Zealand’s mental health services have been unable to meet these needs.

The Ministry of Health’s Ola Manuia Report (2020) aims for Pacific peoples to lead independent and resilient lives, live longer, and have equitable health outcomes. However, the focus tends to be on replicating what has already been done in the past. There needs to be a different approach, a change in the foundation and delivery, rather than continuing in the same direction and expecting different outcomes.

The total funding is $300,000 over 24 months.

Samoan families’ experiences with mental health services
Ioana Mulipola received a Pacific Health Clinical Training Fellowship, which provides an opportunity for medial and allied health professionals, who have a current clinical role, to undertake doctoral study. Mulipola, a clinical quality coordinator at Counties Manukau Health (CMH), will work towards a Doctor of Health Science at AUT.

The project aims to provide the foundation for CMH Mental Health Services to re-examine its focus and model of care for Samoan people, thereby ensuring a targeted approach to the cultural needs of those who access services and their families. The qualitative study will examine Samoan families’ experiences of the current ‘family centred’ model. A Samoan research framework, Fa’afaletui, will be employed for the methodology.

The total funding is $172,500 over 24 months.

Exploring the role of Tongan faith leaders in influencing wellbeing
Rubinstine Manukia received a Pacific Health Research PhD Scholarship, which provides three years of personal support for outstanding graduates undertaking doctoral study in any discipline related to improving the health of Pacific peoples.

Manukia is undertaking a Doctor of Philosophy (Health Law) at AUT. Her proposed study will investigate the role of faith leaders in influencing the wellbeing of Tongan people in New Zealand. There is no specific evidence describing the role of faith leaders in the lives of Tongan people. The qualitative study will be informed by a talanoa research approach that is inclusive of Pacific knowledge, values, and belief systems.

The total funding is $84,033 over 36 months.

Me’akai, Suka mo e Mo’ui Lotolu (Food, diabetes, and total wellbeing), and Talanoa ‘o e Me’akai mo e Suka (Talk about food and sugar)
Soana Muimuiheata received two Pacific Health Knowledge Transition Grants, to assist with the dissemination of research identified as important for future use, including the development of policy and health services.

Muimuiheata, a dietitian consultant, is completing a Doctor of Health Science at AUT. She aims to share the findings of her research with the Tongan community and churches in New Zealand, using posters and flyers to translate knowledge and support diabetes prevention and control.

The high prevalence of diabetes among Tongans in New Zealand is due to lifestyle changes and acculturation. This research recognises the effects of Tongan cultural values, communal living and food practices, for optimal management of diabetes. Creating a supportive environment at home, church and the community is needed, as the entire Tongan population is at high risk of developing diabetes.

The second grant will support knowledge and information sharing through Tongan media and health conferencing, highlighting lived experiences and participant stories. Video and performing arts (fakahaka) will also be used to demonstrate the essence of food in maintaining relationship (tauhi vā) and preventing diabetes among Tongans.

The total funding is $10,000 over four months.

Culture, church and community: Understanding Tongan gambling in New Zealand
Edmond Fehoko also received a Pacific Health Knowledge Transition Grant, to assist with the dissemination of research identified as important for future use, including the development of policy and health services.

Fehoko recently completed a Doctor of Philosophy (Public Health) at AUT. He aims to share the findings of his study, which explored Tongan male perceptions and experiences of problem gambling in New Zealand, with Tongan families, community and cultural groups, and Pacific mental health and addiction service providers.

The total funding is $4,700 over 10 months.

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