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Study with us

There are opportunities to study Pacific Health at undergraduate level and as a postgraduate degree. Understanding health and context of Pacific communities in NZ and internationally is valuable for working in the health sector. The Division of Health Sciences has a set of Pacific Curriculum Learning Outcomes which outline the aspirations for student learning for our graduates.
Pacific Curriculum Learning Outcomes

Teaching staff

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Undergraduate study in Pacific health

Bachelor of Health Science (majoring in Pacific and Global Health)

Group of Bachelor of Health Science students image
Undergraduate students of the Bachelor of Health Science degree studying Pacific Health.

The Pacific and Global Health major focuses on the effects of globalisation, economic pressures and changing societies on the health of Pacific peoples in New Zealand and in neighbouring Pacific countries. There are two dedicated Pacific health papers in the degree:

  • PACH 201 Pacific Health: New Zealand and the Pacific Region
  • PACH 301 Pacific Health: Advanced Applied Knowledge

Within these papers students learn how to effectively engage with Pacific people and their communities to develop and create positive solutions within the context of health care and provision at a population level.

The course covers historical, social and cultural contexts to Pacific health, and strategies for understanding and addressing health inequities and key health issues. Students explore the application of Pacific belief systems, values, principles and ethical approaches related to health.

Graduates majoring in Pacific and Global Health will have a global perspective of health and well-being with the skills and knowledge necessary to serve the needs of Pacific people and communities and support Pacific and mainstream solutions to improving health.

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Division of Health Sciences: Health Professional Programmes

Health professional programme lecture image
Medical students attend a lecture on Pacific mental health and well-being presented by Pacific psychiatrists.

Teaching staff from the Centre for Pacific Health deliver teaching about Pacific health to health professional students across the Division. This includes an expanding curriculum in:

These programmes build foundational knowledge about Pacific communities and applied skills that will help students better serve Pacific patients and their families. Pacific teaching is immersive so we are privileged to be able to share the experiences and expertise of our local Pacific community as part of our teaching.

Health professional programme students learn traditonal dancing image
Physiotherapy students learning traditional Cook Island dancing.

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Postgraduate study in Pacific Health

Postgraduate Study in General / Rural Remote Medical Practice

Va’a o Tautai is supporting a cohort of doctors in Pacific Island countries to gain postgraduate qualifications in general / rural remote medical practice. Doctors based in the Cook Islands, Samoa and Niue are currently studying towards a postgraduate certificate or diploma in Rural and Provincial Hospital Practice (RPHP), through the postgraduate rural medical programme. The largely distance-taught nature of the papers allows doctors to remain in-country while studying. Other facilitators are clinical synergy with rural medicine and linking to established medical training programmes.
Rural and Provincial Hospital Practice (RPHP)
Postgraduate rural medical programme

For the Cook Islands the Otago papers form the academic component of a vocational GP Fellowship programme. Five Cook Islands Ministry of Health (MOH) doctors have now completed the Certificate in RPHP (PGCertPRHP). One Cook Islands MOH doctor has completed the Certificate in Clinician Performed Ultrasound (Cert CPU). Niue Ministry of Health is developing a similar training programme with their first doctor starting on Otago postgraduate papers next semester.

Helen Heimoana, Ruonamakin Rui and Allamanda Faatoese image
From left: Dr Helen Heimoana and Dr Ruonamakin Rui both from Cook Islands Ministry of Health, with Dr Allamanda Faatoese, in Christchurch at the 2019 Trauma and Emergencies paper residential workshop.

Niue Ministry of Health staff and colleagues at Niue Foou Hospital image
Niue Ministry of Health clinical staff (Dr Eddie Akauola Chief medical Officer, 2nd from left) at Niue Foou Hospital 2019.

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Postgraduate research students

The Centre for Pacific Health also supports and encourages our talented emerging scientists with research opportunities as part of a wider Divisional commitment to Pacific health research.
Visit Pacific Health Research at Otago

Dr Malama Tafuna'i

Funding: Health Research Council 2019 Pacific Clinical Research Training Fellowship

Malama Tafuna'i thumbSupervisors: Professor Rob Walker (DSM), Professor Diana Sarfati (UOW), Faumuina Professor Fa’afetai Sopoaga, Associate Professor Rosalina Richards, Dr Ari Samaranayaka

Prevalence of chronic kidney disease in Samoan residents in New Zealand and Samoa

Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) is recognised as a public health issue in New Zealand (NZ). Maori and Pacific people in NZ carry this burden with a 3-5 x greater risk of developing End Stage Kidney Disease and commencing subsequent Renal Replacement Therapy than NZ European. Pacific people have been found to be 2.62 times more likely to develop CKD unrelated to diabetic nephropathy. The prevalence of CKD in Samoan people has never been studied nor has the associated risk factors for its development been evaluated. This study proposes to compare and contrast the prevalence of CKD in Samoan people resident in New Zealand with Samoan people resident in Samoa. At the same time, it will look at the risk factors associated with CKD in Samoan people both in New Zealand and Samoa, to try and understand any relationships between these and the development and progression of CKD.

Email lama.tafunai@otago.ac.nz

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Faumuina Professor Fa'afetai Sopoaga

Funding: Health Research Council of New Zealand

Tai Sopoaga thumbSupervisors: Associate Professor Jacques van der Meer, Professor Tim Wilkinson, Dr Shyamala Nada-Raja

Health and well-being of Pacific students in Health Sciences

This research seeks to explore and identify factors which impact on the health, well-being and success of Pacific students enrolled in University. The overall aim is to develop a better understanding about how to best support Pacific students to achieve their goals and aspirations. Participants are Pacific students enrolled in the first year of health sciences at the University of Otago in 2015 and 2016.

Email pacific.health@otago.ac.nz

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Troy Ruhe

Funding: Health Research Council of New Zealand

Troy Ruhe imageSupervisors: Associate Professor Lynnette Jones, Faumuina Professor Fa’afetai Sopoaga, Professor Debra Waters

The ‘Niu Movement’- Assessing the acceptability of a circuit-based physical activity intervention in Pacific Islands communities

The proposed research is a physical activity intervention that will take place in Cook Island communities of both New Zealand and within the Cook Islands. The development of a physical activity programme which comprises movements of traditional Cook Islands daily activities of food gathering and preparation has been piloted to test the feasibility and acceptability of such imagery.

The main aim of the study is to determine effective strategies to increase physical activity adherence within Cook Islands communities. This aim will be achieved through developing a validated strength-based model for Cook Islands health through the medium of physical activity incorporating Cook Islands values, belief systems and principles within a Cook Islands framework.

Email centre.pacifichealth@otago.ac.nz

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Lesieli Prescott

Funding: Better Start National Science Challenge Masters Scholarship

Supervisors: Dr Rick Audas, Dr Jesse Kokaua, Associate Professor Rosalina Richards

What happens to Pacific Island youth with mental health conditions: Evidence from the New Zealand Integrated Data Infrastructure

In New Zealand there is currently an over representation of Pacific youth suffering from mental health conditions (MHCs). Despite this, little is known about the possible determinants leading to these conditions and furthermore, their association to other health outcomes. Using data extracted from the Integrated Data Infrastructure (IDI), this quantitative study retrospectively researched young Pacific people aged 10-14 years old who had been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD), mood disorder, anxiety, conduct disorder or substance disorder.

The aims of this research were to describe the diagnosis of these specified MHCs among Pacific youth in New Zealand; To explore the likelihood of deprivation and migration as determinants for the onset of these MHCs; And to examine whether there was an increased risk between the onset of these MHCs and the development of short-term health outcomes, measured by the occurrence of ambulatory sensitive hospitalisation (ASH) conditions.

Email centre.pacifichealth@otago.ac.nz

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Ryder Fuimaono

Ryder Fuimaono thumbSupervisors: Professor Rob Walker, Faumuina Professor Fa’afetai Sopoaga, Dr Tim Wilkinson

A pilot study: Does a novel genetic variant, highly expressed in Samoans, explain their increased propensity to develop Chronic Kidney Disease?

Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) continues to increase globally. In New Zealand, a community-based prevalence study demonstrated that Pacific peoples had a 2.56 fold higher risk of CKD, controlling for diabetes. Likewise Pacific people (predominantly Samoan) in NZ with a family history of ESKD have an increased risk of nephropathy independent of diabetes, suggesting a genetic component.

Recent studies have identified the CREBRF p.Arg457Gln gene variant prevalent among Samoans, predisposes against obesity, yet protects against diabetes, but did not associate with established CKD. The aim of this pilot study is to investigate the possible association between the CREBRF p.Arg457Gln gene variant (A allele), obesity, and early prediction of kidney damage, as identified by proteinuria in a local Samoan population.

175 Samoans from a local church community in Upolu Samoa, were recruited for the study.

This Samoan community survey identified that 34% of the sample had positive proteinuria, and 47% were either severely or morbidly obese. When comparing with the CREBRF p.Arg457Gln gene variant, there was a 59% increased risk of proteinuria, and 84% increased obesity risk among those with the A allele, compared with those homozygous for G allele. However, findings were not significant due to small sample size. Further studies with a larger sample size is needed to explore this association.

Email centre.pacifichealth@otago.ac.nz

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Dr Melbourne Mauiliu

Melbourne Mauiliu thumbSupervisor: Associate Professor Rosalina Richards

Pacific Health Professionals’ and Researchers’ Experiences as Pacific Advisors

Health research is one of the mechanisms by which these health inequities can be addressed, with Pacific communities being identified as priority populations. In response, research teams will often seek to include Pacific as collaborators or advisors on projects. This can be a challenging role, both in terms of encouraging teams to align their work with Pacific research guidelines and the great responsibility to be the voice of more than 22 different Pacific groups. This research will explore experiences of senior Pacific colleagues who have represented Pacific views within various fields of health-related research.

Within the next 10 years there will be an influx of new young Pacific health professionals who will undoubtedly be approached to participate in decision making scenarios. Learning from experiences of those who have served within these contexts will be of help. The information obtained will contribute to preparing future Pacific Health professionals in building their confidence in cultural competency, their ability to make sound and informed decisions as well recognise where and how to seek counsel on matters of Pacific Health.

Email centre.pacifichealth@otago.ac.nz

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Albany Lucas

Albany Lucas thumbFunding: Health Research Council of New Zealand PhD Scholarship

Supervisors: Associate Professor Rose Richards, Professor Rachael Taylor, Dr Justine Camp

Sleep, health, communication, and wellbeing for Pacific children and families

This doctoral research sits within a larger project funded by E Tipu e Rea (A Better Start) National Science Challenge – ‘Moemoea’ – co-led by Professor Rachael Taylor, Associate Professor Rose Richards, and Dr Justine Camp. The aim of Moemoea is to develop a sleep toolkit that is suitable for immediate implementation by a variety of Well Child providers, including Māori and Pacific providers. The aims of this particular project are: 1) to design potential sleep toolkit components in partnership with Pacific families, communities, and stakeholders that incorporate relevant Pacific cultural values and traditions; and 2) to use the multiphase optimization strategy (MOST) – a novel experimental design – to determine which potential intervention components are effective for Pacific families, taking into account any relevant constraints identified through discussions with Pacific health providers.

Email centre.pacifichealth@otago.ac.nz

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Grettel Williams

Grettel Williams thumbSupervisors: Dr Richard Egan, Associate Professor Rosalina Richards

Building a health workforce that can meet the health needs of Pacific communities: Perspectives from leaders and health care providers of Pacific health services across New Zealand.

Pacific peoples in New Zealand (NZ) experience significant health inequities. One pathway to reducing these is to better equip the health workforce to meet the health needs of the Pacific communities that they serve. As the Pacific health curriculum at the University of Otago continues to grow it can be usefully informed by a variety of perspectives on what skills, knowledge and attributes are needed for students to be ‘work ready’ when they graduate. The current study focuses on Pacific Health Providers, health and social services set up to serve the needs of Pacific (and other) communities which are underpinned by Pacific values and expectations. Data collection was carried out in the form of a facilitated workshop with leaders from Pacific health providers across New Zealand to discuss what they would consider to be important skills, attitudes, awareness and knowledge for Pacific and non-Pacific graduates to have when seeking employment with health services such as theirs. The findings will inform ongoing development of the Pacific health curriculum in the Division of Health Sciences.

Email centre.pacifichealth@otago.ac.nz

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