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Otago global health institute invests in research with Fiji and East Timor

Monday, 13 January 2020

Philip Hill & Sakiusa Cabe Baleivanualala image 2020
Professor Philip Hill and Sakiusa Baleivanualala.

The Otago Global Health Institute, a flagship research centre of the University of Otago, is investing in new research initiatives in collaboration with the Fiji National University and the National University of East Timor to help address health problems in these countries.

Co-director of the Otago Global Health Institute, Professor Philip Hill, says the Institute is investing $100,000 in five new research projects over the next two years.

“We hope to lay the foundation for long-term research collaborations, which will lead to research that addresses the most pressing health problems in Fiji and East Timor.”

One of the initiatives involves a staff member from the Fiji National University, Sakiusa Cabe Baleivanualala, who has been awarded a PhD Scholarship by the University of Otago, to conduct a study into the transmission of antibiotic-resistant bacteria at the country’s main hospital in Suva. His supervisor will be Associate Professor James Ussher from the Division of Health Sciences.

Institute Co-director Dr Patrick Vakaoti explains the initiative is a statement of intent to work together with fellow researchers in Fiji and East Timor to build collaboration and capacity to conduct internationally-competitive research, under the Memoranda of Understanding that have been established.

The other four research projects begin next year. Dr Gade Waqa from the new Fiji Institute of Pacific Health Research, based at Fiji National University’s College of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences, will lead a mixed methods study to explore determinants of behaviour, along with knowledge and practice in relation to non-communicable disease in Fijian women. Dr Vakaoti will be her primary research partner at Otago.

Dr Joao Martins from the National University of East Timor will lead an epidemiological study to measure the prevalence of tobacco users among adolescents aged 13 to 15 in Dili. The study will also assess factors that influence adolescents taking up smoking. His primary collaborator will be Professor Richard Edwards from the University of Otago, Wellington.

People living with HIV in Fiji will be the focus of Professor Miguel E. Quiñones-Mateu’s research from the University of Otago’s Department of Microbiology and Immunology. Professor Quinones-Mateu will use a deep sequencing-based HIV genotyping assay to fully characterise genomically, for the first time, the HIV epidemic in people living with HIV in Fiji. His primary research collaborator will be Atlesh Nand Sudhakar from the Fiji National University.

The National Programme Manager for HIV/Aids for the Ministry of Health in East Timor, Dr Sheena Viegas, will lead a project to assess a new HIV testing protocol and propose a new HIV diagnostic algorithm for East Timor. Her primary research collaborator is Dr Sue McAllister who leads the AIDS Epidemiology Group at the University of Otago.

Fijian Award Recipients image 2020
Dr Donald Wilson (front, left) with award recipients from the Fiji National University Dr Gade Waqa (front, right) and Sakiusa Baleivanualala and Atlesh Sudhakar (back row).

Fiji National University’s Associate Dean Research, Dr Donald Wilson, who is also the Director of the new Fiji Institute of Pacific Health Research, welcomes the collaborative initiative with the Otago Global Health Institute.

“This comes at a strategic juncture for our College of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences and the University as a whole. The new Fiji Institute for Pacific Health Research was established to better co-ordinate all research conducted by our College staff and students.

“There is no doubt that the relationship with the Otago Global Health Institue will benefit not just both countries and institutions but the greater Pacific region.”

Dr Martins, who is himself a graduate in public health from the Department of Preventive and Social Medicine at Otago University, says this initiative is more than welcome.

“We are excited at UNTL to get this new research initiative underway. We will be working collaboratively with our fellow researchers from the University of Otago to conduct this proposed research in 2020.

“We hope that the implementation of this seed grant will strengthen the relationship between UNTL and Otago University and that it will also contribute to improving the health and wellbeing of Timorese people through research.”

The Otago Global Health Institute is a research centre within the University of Otago with staff from a variety of departments and divisions working together on global health initiatives. Its main aim is to work with partners both in New Zealand and globally to help find solutions to tackle pressing global health problems.

For further information, contact:

Professor Philip Hill
McAuley Professor of International Health
Tel +64 3 479 9462
Email Philip.hill@otago.ac.nz

Dr Donald Wilson
Associate Dean, Research
Fiji National University
Tel +679 805 3931
Email Donald.wilson@fnu.ac.fj

Liane Topham-Kindley
Senior Communications Adviser
Tel +64 3 479 9065
Mob +64 21 279 9065
Email liane.topham-kindley@otago.ac.nz