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Associate Professor Gillian Abel

Gillian AbelHead of Department

DipTech(Cape Technicon) MPH PhD(Otago) PGCertHighE

Tel +64 3 364 3619

Department of Population Health
University of Otago, Christchurch
PO Box 4345
Christchurch 8140


Gillian Abel’s early background was in haematology before taking a career change to public health. She joined the Department of Public Health and General Practice at the University of Otago, Christchurch in 1997 and holds a PhD in public health from this University.

Gillian is expert in mixed methods research using community-based participatory approaches. Her research focuses on vulnerable populations such as sex workers, vulnerable youth and Pacific people. Sex work research is a field in which she has extensive expertise. Her research in this field is firmly located in public health but she applies a sociological lens by analysing data in the context of structural opportunities and constraints faced by sex workers, drawing on concepts of stigma; theories of social exclusion; theories of risk; and feminist theories.

She led a large Health Research Council funded national research project looking at the impact of the Prostitution Reform Act (2003) on the health and safety of sex workers and this study has been influential in informing policy both in New Zealand and internationally. She is currently a collaborator on a large Canadian team project looking at vulnerabilities in the Canadian sex industry.

Gillian teaches two papers in the post-graduate Diploma in Public Health and also teaches into the undergraduate medical programme. She has supervised many students on a variety of public health and health sciences topics.

She is particularly keen to supervise Masters and PhD students with an interest in

  • Vulnerable or stigmatised population groups
  • Community-based research approaches
  • Qualitative and mixed methods research approaches


Research Interests

  • Sex work research
  • Youth health
  • Community-based participatory research
  • Qualitative research

Public Lectures

  • Street-based sex work in Christchurch. Presentation at Community meeting on street-based sex work, Salvation Army, Christchurch, 24 July 2018
  • From harm minimisation to social justice: a public health perspective on decriminalisation of sex work in New Zealand.
    Lecture to University of the Third Age, 11 July 2017, Christchurch.
  • The NZPC and me: A long and productive collaboration.
    Keynote Speaker at Insights" Sex work in New Zealand and Beyond Symposium, 12 February 2016, Wellington
  • Decriminalisation of sex work: Has the Prostitution Reform Act resulted in healthier and safer sex workers?
    Winter Lecture Series: Illuminating New Knowledge, University of Otago, Auckland Centre, 28 July, 2011.
  • Decriminalisation of sex work: Has the Prostitution Reform Act resulted in healthier and safer sex workers?
    Winter Lecture Series: Illuminating New Knowledge, University of Otago, James Cook Hotel Grand Chancellor, Wellington, 27 July, 2011.
  • The Impact of the Prostitution Reform Act on the Health and Safety of Sex Workers,
    Going All the Way Seminar, Parliament Buildings, Wellington, 25 June 2008.
  • The Prostitution Reform Act _ New Zealand’s experience,
    University of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, 31 October 2007


Student Supervision

Student: Rachael Dixon
Degree: PhD
Topic: Exploring the long-term outcomes of senior secondary school Health Education in New Zealand
Co Supervisor: L Burrows

Student: Toyin Kolawole
Degree: PhD
Topic: African Migrants and HIV 
Co Supervisor: Lee Thompson

Student: Christina McKerchar
Degree: PhD
Topic: Food Availability for Māori Children - a rights based approach
Co-supervisors: Louise Signal and Cameron Lacey

Student: Chidimma Aham-Chiabuotu
Degree: PhD
Topic: Exploring Alternative Resources for Raising Awareness, Prevention and Reporting of Sexual violence against Internally Displaced Women of Reproductive Age in North Eastern Nigeria
Co-Supervisor: Lee Thompson

Student: Lev Zhuravsky
Degree: PhD
Topic: Creating Resilience in Health Care Organizations. Role of Shared Leadership in Realigning a Gap between Work as Imagined and Work as Done
Co-Supervisor: Lee Thompson

Student: Susan Bidwell
Degree: PhD
Topic: An exploration of people’s use of dietary supplements and herbal medicines
Co-Supervisor: Lee Thompson

Student: Jen Desrosiers
Degree: PhD
Topic: Changes to Medical Student self-reported Sexual Attraction


Student: Kathryn Goodyear
Degree: MPH
Topic: Talking about menopause: Exploring the lived experience of menopause for nurses


Student: Juliane Brand
Degree: MPH
Topic: A Qualitative Study to Explore the Quality of Life of People Under the Age of 65 in Aged Residential Care

Student: Alex Sullivan
Degree: MPH
Topic: Both sides of the story: understanding the risks of drinking water self-supplies as perceived by New Zealanders living rurally
Co-Supervisor: Cheryl Brunton

Student: Anna Carey
Degree: MPH
Topic: What are the barriers to Aged Residential Care Facilities achieving full attainment in Certification and Surveillance audits?


Student: Rosee Neville
Degree: MPH
Topic: Who You Know and How You Are Known: Children's Perception of Neighbourhood.
Co-supervisor: Lee Thompson

Student: Warren Nairn
Degree: MPH
Topic: The Impact of Homeless Men's Use of City Spaces on their Wellbeing
Co-supervisor: Dr Lee Thompson


Student: Emily Brick
Degree: MPH
Topic: Young Female’s Experiences and Perspectives of Using Social Media for Sexual Health Promotion
Co-supervisor: Jen Woollett


Student: Lev Zhuravsky
Degree: MHealSc
Topic: Crisis Leadership in an Acute Clinical Setting: Christchurch Hospital ICU February 2011


Student: Wai Yee Angela Cho
Degree: MHealSc
TopicCommunity solidarity: Press coverage of the Christchurch earthquake


Student: Nadia Bartholomew
Degree: MPH
Topic: An exploratory study of Muslim women’s attitudes towards and experiences of cervical screening.

Student: Kiri Hider
Degree: MPH
Topic: Midwives' perception of lean thinking in a tertiary birthing unit.

Student: Rebecca Dell
Degree: MPH
Topic: Parents’ attitudes to the HPV vaccination for their daughters.
Co-supervisor: Cheryl Brunton

Student: Melissa Ludeke
Degree: MPH
Topic: I believe once I'm happy with myself I won't need to smoke: Women's views on smoking, tobacco control and cessation.
Co-supervisor:Dr Lee Thompson

Student: Jo Powell,
Degree: MHealSc
Topic: “It’s a different feeling of satisfaction dealing with old people”; perceptions of paid caregivers working in aged residential care.
Co-supervisor: Dr Lee Thompson


Student: Cheryl Ford
Degree: MPH
Topic: Practitioners' perspectives of the barriers to health promotion evaluation.
Co-supervisor: Dr Lee Thompson

Student: Gillian Pearce,
Degree: MHealSc
Topic: Open disclosure of adverse events at Christchurch Hospital; a doctor's perspective.
Co-supervisor: Pauline Barnett


Student: Laura Aileone
Degree: MPH
Topic: Topic: Recruitment & retention of midwives within the Canterbury District Health Board.
Co-supervisor: Suzanne Pitama

Student: Lil Convery
Degree: MPH
Topic: Understanding success in the Green Prescription Programme: A qualitative investigation into patient perspectives about physical activity.
Co-supervisor: Dee Mangin

Student: Lauren Cundall
Degree: MPH
Topic: Finding the offline self in a world online: A phenomenological analysis of massive multiplayer online role playing gaming as a vehicle for adolescent identity.
Co-supervisor: Ria Schroder (National Addiction Centre)

Student: Judith Henninger
Degree: MPH
Topic: Knowledge, attitudes & intentions of General Practitioners and Practice Nurses in Christchurch about HPV & HPV vaccines.
Co-supervisor: Les Toop


Student: Katie Brown
Degree: MPH
Topic: Exploring young women's understandings of the their first experience of sexual intercourse.
Co-supervisor: Lisa Fitzgerald

Student: Kirsty Donaldson
Degree: MPH
Topic: The contexts of young people’s decision-making in early & late sexual initiation.
Co-supervisor: Lisa Fitzgerald

Student: Nikki Rayne
Degree: MPH
Topic:Childhood Obesity: Do primary schools have a role in prevention?
Co-supervisor: Ann Richardson

Student: Tim D Weir
Degree: MPH
Topic: The implementation of occupational health and safety in the New Zealand brothel sector since decriminalisation: Perspectives of brothel operators, regulatory officers and the New Zealand Prostitutes’ Collective.
Co-supervisor: Lisa Fitzgerald


logo - Pegasus Health (Charitable) LtdStudent: Annabel Ludeke
Topic: Health literacy in general practice: describing practice nurses' understanding of health literacy.
Supervisors: Gillian Abel, Lynley Cook, Philip Schluter, Ramai Lord, Maria Pasene
Sponsor: Pegasus Health (Charitable) Ltd


Student: Kara Seers
Topic: The use of interpreter services in general practice in Canterbury.
Supervisors: Philip Schluter, Gillian Abel, Lynley Cook


logo - hrcStudent: Nicholas Pascoe
Topic: A critical media analysis of print media reporting on the implementation of the Prostitution Reform Act, 2003-2006.
Supervisors: Lisa Fitzgerald, Gillian Abel, Cheryl Brunton [Dept Public Health & General Practice]
Sponsor: Health Research Council of NZ


Student: Tim Weir
Topic: Post-reform reflections on prostitution legislation: analysis of Phase I context-setting focus groups.
Co-Supervisors: Gillian Abel, Lisa Fitzgerald
Sponsor: Public Health Theme