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Monday 2 August 2021 11:03am

The University of Otago's Global Health Institute and Dunedin's Mercy Hospital are supporting the establishment of a new Communicable Diseases Research Centre at Fiji National University (FNU).

The University of Otago signed a Memorandum of Understanding with FNU in 2017.

The Communicable Diseases Research Centre (CDRC) is the latest research centre affiliated to Fiji National University's Fiji Institute of Public Health Research (FIPHR) – the umbrella body that coordinates all student and staff research at the College of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences (CMNHS), and external research collaborations.

Otago Global Health Institute Co-Director Associate Professor Patrick Vakaoti says supporting FNU's desire to build truly Pacific-led and internationally competitive research centres is very much in line with OGHI's vision of a “world where health problems are solved by those who are most affected by them”.

This development also aligns with OGHI's mission to “work in collaboration with researchers in under-resourced populations to conduct research that addresses their most pressing health problems”, he says.

“We are excited to partner with FNU on this initiative and hope that together we can help build something that Fiji and all of the Pacific can be proud of. Most importantly, we hope that this initiative will lead to outstanding Pacific-led collaborative research that impacts infectious diseases across the Pacific.”

As part of this initiative, Professor Philip Hill, McAuley Professor of International Health and co-Director of OGHI, has been appointed as Adjunct Professor with the new research centre and is committing 20 per cent of his time to the endeavour.

Other Otago researchers from several different departments including Preventive and Social Medicine, Mathematics and Statistics, and Microbiology and Immunology are also supporting the initiative.

“It is a great privilege to be part of this new initiative from its inception. We are looking forward to a long and fruitful partnership with our friends at FNU,” Professor Hill says.

Mercy Hospital, which endowed the McAuley Chair of International Health, has committed $97,500 over three years towards the employment of a coordinator for the new Centre.

Mercy Hospital Mission Coordinator Rev Alofa Lale says the hospital is excited to support the initiative.

“We welcome the opportunity to support this new initiative in Fiji. The widespread potential for considerable positive influence in the whole Pacific around communicable diseases does not go unnoticed.

“The establishment of this research centre creates a platform for proactive engagement which will hopefully strengthen collaboration capabilities around the Pacific region,” she says.

The CDRC is the brainchild of Dr Donald Wilson, Associate Dean of Research at FNU's College of Nursing and Health Sciences. Under his guidance CDRC already has a coordinator, administrative and office support and is playing a leadership role on two large projects on COVID‑19 funded by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Human capacity building lies at the heart of the initiative. Otago is already active in this respect, providing strategic Otago PhD and master's scholarships to two staff of the CMNHS, both enrolled in Microbiology and Immunology. It is anticipated that several more FNU staff and students will be supported with PhD scholarships in the years ahead.

Dr Wilson says CDRC is also establishing foundational partnerships with researchers and institutions across the world.

“The University of Otago will remain etched in the history books of FNU's CMNHS, for having helped bring to life the dreams of establishing the new CDRC under FIPHR.

“This COVID‑19 pandemic has highlighted the critical need to build capacity in infectious/communicable disease research, and for that we are extremely grateful to Otago and Mercy Hospital, for Professor Hill's time, and the funding commitment to staffing of the CDRC.

“For the sake of health research in the Pacific, we at FIPHR can only hope that this working relationship lasts for many, many years to come,” Dr Wilson says.

A major fund-raising drive is anticipated in the next two years, to build world-class laboratory facilities to support the research of the CDRC.

For further information, contact:

Professor Philip Hill
McAuley Professor of International Health and co-Director of OGHI
University of Otago
Tel +64 3 479 9462

Professor Patrick Vakaoti
Otago Global Health Institute Co-Director Associate
Tel +64 3 479 3074

Lea Jones
Communications Adviser, Media Engagement
University of Otago
Tel +64 3 479 4969
Mob +64 21 279 4969

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