Meet our research and teaching staff at the Centre for Pacific Health.
Dr Kati Blattner, Senior Lecturer
Dr Kati Blattner has convened the Otago Medical School Rural Postgraduate Programme since 2008 and is the Pacific Nation Liaison. She works with the Cook Islands and Niue Ministries of Health building capacity and workforce in the Pacific region with a focus on primary health care. Kati also works as a rural doctor based at Hokianga Health, Rawene Hospital in New Zealand's far north. Her clinical work crosses the scopes of General Practice and Rural Hospital Medicine involving clinic and hospital based care.
Kati’s areas of research interest include improving quality of health services and access to services for rural remote communities, continuing education, and vocational training for rural remote generalist doctors and improving academic support for postgraduate students based in Pacific Island countries. In 2019, Kati was awarded a CALT grant to explore ways to tailor a programme to strengthen academic support for postgraduate distance education students in the Cook Islands and Pacific region for the Otago School of Medicine.
Dr Shyamala Nada-Raja’s research focusses on mental well-being, violence and suicide prevention, and E-health interventions in these areas in diverse population groups. She moved from Va’a o Tautai in 2020 to work with colleagues on the Ola Malohi Study: the mental well-being of Pacific tertiary students. Shyamala’s major research programmes have focussed on mental well-being, self-harm, and positive development in The Dunedin Study and online cognitive behaviour therapy for depression with national and international colleagues. Her current research focusses on the epidemiology of mental well-being, violence and self-harm in young people and women. This includes randomised controlled trials of co-designed E-therapies and tools with tertiary students (https://owius.org), and to promote healthy relationships with young people and women.
Shyamala’s background is in cognitive and experimental psychology and public mental health, including designing and evaluating relevant interventions. She contributes guest lectures on her research to students in public health and medicine, and supervises undergraduate and postgraduate research projects at the University of Otago.
Dr Kim Cousins, Research Fellow
Dr Cousins is a research fellow in the Centre for Pacific Health, working as part of the Free Meds team. The Free Meds Study is a large randomised controlled trial funded by the Health Research Council of New Zealand (HRC) and PHARMAC. It has recruited over 1,000 people in many areas of New Zealand, with half the participants exempted from the $5 charge. The other half continued paying for medicines as normal. The researchers, led by Professor Pauline Norris, are comparing the two groups’ use of hospital and other health services, as well as their self-reported health, to see if giving people free medicines improves their health.
Kim’s background is in Anthropology and Public Health, and her research has focused on evaluation of community-based interventions and alcohol-related harm and young people. She is also a Teaching Fellow in the Department of Preventive and Social Medicine.
Dr Faatoese is a biomedical scientist based at the University of Otago Christchurch campus. Her research focus is on heart disease and diabetes-risk among Pacific communities. She led The Pasiifika Heart Study in partnership with the local Pacific Health Provider, that screened 200 Pacific adults for established cardiovascular and metabolic risk factors and novel genetic variants (single nucleotide polymorphisms) and circulating biomarkers (novel lipoproteins, cardiac hormones, renal function and gout).
Currently she is the Principal Investigator of a an HRC Pacific project that will determine the effectiveness of a Pacific-led lifestyle programme in partnership with Pegasus Public Health Organisation. The effectiveness of the intervention will be measured by the changes in biomarkers (epigenetics, diabetes, lipid profiles and anthropometry) and reported lifestyle-behaviour changes (qualitative interviews).
Dr Molly George, Research Fellow
Dr George’s background is in Social Anthropology. As a research fellow, Molly is currently part of a team working on an HRC Pacific Project Grant on sleep and well-being among Pacific children and adolescents. Molly is a qualitative researcher with work experience and interest in projects across the life course. Her primary interests include ageing, health and well-being, medical anthropology, migration and multiculturalism.
Other recent research positions have included projects as varied as sleep in Māori whanau with tamariki and pēpi, children’s perceptions of risk at school playgrounds, and intimacy in aged care settings. Her PhD research will be published as a book with Rutgers University Press in 2020: 'Ageing in a Changing World: Older New Zealanders and contemporary multiculturalism'.
Dr Jesse Kokaua, Senior Research Fellow
Dr Kokaua currently holds a HRC Pacific Postdoctoral Fellowship to explore the value of education to Pacific families in terms of their health. Jesse’s background is in Biostatistics and his post doctoral fellowship investigates the association between higher education and measures of health and social well-being for Pacific Island university graduates; and, to investigate the association between education and measures of health in Pasifika families.
The first study comprises analyses of Pacific graduates from the Graduate Longitudinal Study of New Zealand (GLSNZ) and looks at outcomes and employment pathways resulting from their study. The second study uses the Integrated Data Infrastructure (IDI) to investigate associations between parental education and child health outcomes, and whether any associations are mediated by incomes or other external factors.
Following on from that stage will be an investigation in terms of associations between family education and health outcomes and the pathways families take to not only achieve good health outcomes but to progress from an expectation of poor health to achieve good health outcomes over time.
Dr Kokaua has also recently been awarded the prestigious Sir Thomas Davis Te Patu Kite Rangi Ariki Health Research Fellowship (2020) for his project Lighted Paths: Education and pathways to better health for Pacific families.
Michael Lameta, E-learning Developer
Michael works in the Pacific Islands Research and Student Support Unit (PIRSSU), and the Centre for Pacific Health, as an Instructional Designer providing leadership and support for eLearning and other visual resource developments in the teaching programmes. Michael completed a Bachelor of Design (Communication) at Otago Polytechnic and worked as a Teaching and Research Assistant at the Otago Polytechnic School of Design prior to joining Va'a o Tautai in 2017.
Tracie Leckie, Assistant Research Fellow
Tracie is the project manager of the Ola Malohi research project. This project is funded by the HRC and is led by Faumuina Associate Professor Tai Sopoaga, head of Va’a o Tautai. This ground-breaking research will follow the journey of first-year University of Otago Pacific students from across the University for three years, with the aim of better understanding their mental health and well-being, exeriences, successes and challenges. By sharing their experiences at the University, students will provide invaluable insights to help improve health and educational outcomes for Pacific students.
Tracie has a background in psychology, three years post-graduate training in clinical psychology and is a Professional level Cognitive-Behavioural Life Coach. She has taught various leadership courses at the university and teaches the Socially Responsible Business paper (BDBA 907) for the postgraduate Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) programme. In 2019 she also taught the Organisational Psychology paper (BDBA 902) on the DBA programme.
She is passionate about supporting students and their mental health, particularly as they transition into the university space and takes a strengths-based and values-based approach to all her teaching and research interests.
Lydie Leurquin (New Caledonian, French, New Zealand) is the Academic Administrator at the Va’a o Tautai. Her role is to provide support to the teaching staff, which includes the Bachelor of Health Sciences (Pacific and Global Health major) and Health Professional Programmes, as well as providing support to our research staff. Lydie completed a Bachelor of Arts at the University of Otago in 2019, and spent 2020 achieving an Honours degree in Classical Archaeology.
Albany Lucas, Assistant Research Fellow
Albany joined the Centre for Pacific Health in 2018, after working as a Programme Coordinator in the Pacific Islands Research and Student Support Unit (PIRSSU) for four years. She has degrees in Language and Linguistics (BA), Law (LLB), and Bioethics (MBHL) from the University of Otago.
Albany is currently employed as an Assistant Research Fellow (part-time) providing support for ‘Moemoea’ – a project co-led by Associate Professor Rose Richards, Professor Rachael Taylor, and Dr Justine Camp. Her PhD research also sits within this project, which aims to develop a sleep toolkit for children and families in New Zealand.
Talai Mapsua, Professional Practice Fellow
Talai brings her background in education, Indigenous studies and Pacific student support to add richness to the teaching and research space of CPH.
Talai teaches Pacific Health within the Bachelor of Health Science (PACH 201, PACH 301) as well as across health professional programmes including dentistry, physiotherapy, pharmacy and medicine.
Alongside her teaching role Talai is also part of the research team working on an Brain Research New Zealand Funded grant, exploring the needs of Pacific families affected by age-related cognitive impairment.
Professor Pauline Norris
Professor Pauline Norris's research focuses on access to, and use of, medicines. Pauline is particularly interested how lay people understand and use medicines, and looking at particular population groups and barriers they face in accessing and using safe and appropriate medicines. She uses both qualitative and quantitative research methods.
She moved to Va’a o Tautai in 2018 and is currently working for the Division of Health Sciences leading an initiative to strengthen health services research, and leading a large HRC-funded randomised controlled trial of prescription charges (the Free Meds study). She is also currently leading an HRC-funded project on lived experience of problems accessing medicines, and a Marsden-funded project on the production of Big Data.
Associate Professor Rosalina Richards
Associate Professor Richards is a member of Va’a o Tautai and Co-Deputy Director of the new Coastal People: Southern Skies Centre for Research Excellence which aims to connects communities with world-leading, cross-discipline research to rebuild coastal ecosystems. She is also co-Principal Investigator on a Better Start National Science Challenge Project (Moemoea) exploring sleep intervention development and collaborates on work related to Pacific education, access to medicines and health service delivery.
Rosalina's background is in behavioural psychology and public health. As former Director of the Centre for Pacific Health and Co-Director of the Cancer Society and Behavioural Research Unit she has published across a variety of areas, including physical activity, nutrition, tobacco control and supportive cancer care. She is currently convenor for the Division of Health Sciences Pacific Health Curriculum across the Physiotherapy, Pharmacy and Dental schools and contributes to teaching of the Pacific and Global Health major of the Bachelor of Health Sciences.
Faumuina Professor Fa'afetai Sopoaga
Faumuina Professor Fa'afetai Sopoaga is head of Va’a o Tautai - Centre for Pacific Health in the Division of Health Sciences. Faumuina is the high chief title from Fagaloa, Samoa. She trained as a medical doctor with expertise in public health and general practice. She is leading development in the Pacific Health curriculum in Health Sciences, through the Department of Preventive and Social Medicine, and has wide connections and networks with the Pacific community in New Zealand and the Pacific region.
Her research interests are in health workforce capacity building, transitioning students to higher education and Pacific health curriculum. She is currently undertaking doctoral studies on the health and well-being of Pacific students in higher education.
Dr Vanda Symon, Research Fellow
Vanda is a Research Fellow undertaking research with Pacific people and families exploring their lived experiences of access to medicines and health. The knowledge gathered from this ethnographic study will help to inform policy and programmes to improve access to medicines and to benefit Pacific peoples. She is also completing research looking at the needs of Pacific families affected by age-related cognitive impairment.
Vanda completed a degree in pharmacy at the University of Otago, and her PhD was in the field of science communication. She also has a career as an international best-selling crime novelist and has been a finalist for a number of awards.
Iris is a Professional Practice Fellow at the Centre for Pacific Health. She is the new interim convenor of the Pacific health module-Dunedin campus, and also the coordinator for Pacific health teaching into the medical programme.
Iris completed her undergraduate medical training at the Fiji School of Medicine (FSM), and practiced in Fiji. She later joined FSM to teach public health papers to paramedical and medical students, and supervise final year trainee interns on public health placements in Fiji, Solomon Islands, Samoa and Tonga. Having secured a HRC scholarship, she was able to pursue and complete her doctoral studies at the University of Auckland; she later came to Dunedin to support her son who had enrolled at Otago University. Iris is keen to contribute to Pacific capacity development in New Zealand and the Pacific region.
Letava was born and raised in Samoa and is of Samoan and Fijian descent. She completed her undergraduate studies at the Fiji School of Medicine, and a later a diploma in Child Health from the University of Sydney while completing her GP fellowship in Australia.
She has worked in Samoa and Auckland, and has recently returned from Australia where she has been practising for the last 10 years – there she also held a role as a senior clinical lecturer in internal medicine at the James Cook University in Cairns. Letava currently works as a General Practitioner at Broadway Medical Centre and has joined the Pacific Health teaching team as a Professional Practice Fellow.