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Pacific success: focusing on education and health links

Thursday, 8 December 2016 1:58pm

Jesse-Kokaua-image
University of Otago Research Fellow Dr Jesse Kokaua.

University of Otago Research Fellow Dr Jesse Kokaua has been awarded a prestigious Health Research Council (HRC) Pacific Health Postdoctoral Fellowship for 2017. One of two awarded nationally, this fellowship is worth $330,000 over three years.

Dr Kokaua’s research will focus on the association between education and health for Pasifika people and their families. His work will be based on two projects. The first involves the National Centre for Lifecourse Research’s Graduate Longitudinal Study New Zealand (GLNSZ), launched in 2011. The GLSNZ tracks around 8,700 University graduates over 10 years. More than 360 of the graduates are Pacific and Dr Kokaua will focus on their health outcomes.

His second project with co-investigator Dr Rosalina Richards uses data from Pasifika Futures’ administrative dataset linked with that from other datasets (such as the New Zealand Census) in the country’s Integrated Data Infrastructure research database. Dr Kokaua hopes that the research will inform the Pasifika space of health and education to produce better outcomes for Pasifika peoples.

"Both projects align well with national education priorities, including better use of existing data from large-scale studies with Pasifika cohorts."

“Both projects align well with national education priorities, including better use of existing data from large-scale studies with Pasifika cohorts,” he says.

The fellowship also builds on his PhD research in statistics, in which Dr Kokaua applied Bayesian models to examine the prevalence of mental disorders and mental health service use for Cook Islanders living in New Zealand.

Since graduating he has worked as a Research Fellow in the University’s Health Sciences Division Pacific Islands Research and Student Support Unit (PIRSSU), analysing the factors associated with student success in first-year Health Sciences and evaluating the progress of student support programmes.

“My research to date has focused on mental health and wellbeing, a desire to see successful Pacific communities in New Zealand, and an intense interest in applied statistical methods”.

The HRC fellowship affords Dr Kokaua the opportunity to progress his career as a Pacific Island academic researcher and biostatistician and, in doing so, help Pacific communities in New Zealand.

What does he plan to do once he has finished his fellowship?

“Ultimately, I intend to work as a Pacific health researcher in New Zealand as well as support research projects in the wider Pacific region.”