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Health Research Council backs Pacific research at Otago

Thursday 16 December 2021 12:04pm

Lilo Oka Sanerivi and family 2021 full width image
Lilo Oka Sanerivi (right) and his family

Pacific researchers were granted a total of $259,700 in the latest Health Research Council Career Development Awards round.

The seven Pacific research projects were part of the 22 grants, totalling almost $2.9 million awarded to Otago.

Lilo Oka Sanerivi, an Otago masters alumnus, was awarded the Pacific Health Clinical Training Fellowship grant, valued at $202,900, for his research on culturally responsive physiotherapy approaches to working with Pacific families.

His research topic is one close to his heart.

“It combines my love for the profession that has supported my family for over a decade and for my people who have supported me from birth. A gift back to them both,” Mr Sanerivi says.

His findings will be converted into a set of guidelines to inform physiotherapists.

Through his research, Mr Sanerivi aims to instigate change which will ripple through policy, curriculum, and practice in the physiotherapy space.

"This ground-breaking project has the potential to shake up the profession and her relationship with Pacific peoples.”

Mr Sanerivi has adopted a culturally-specific approach to his research whereby cultural knowledge and techniques are embraced – something he believes is important when researching groups from the Moana.

Mr Sanerivi incorporates the Talanoa method in his research - an indigenous methodology that is often used when engaging with Pacific peoples.

“Talanoa means to speak freely without framework and this was the traditional method in which village chiefs and elders of families and churches would deliberate upon important matters facing the community.

“Talanoa is therefore natural to us and lends us readily into constructing solutions for important issues.”

Research that is by and for Pacific peoples is “incredibly valuable”, he says.

“When the researcher reflects the cultural backgrounds, languages, values, and beliefs of those researched, the nuances of Talanoa are interpreted far more accurately and therefore the findings are more accurate,” he says.

“Another key distinction is that these research projects are for the betterment of our communities and so there's an inherent degree of intent and commitment to ensure that the findings are sound and contribute to the flourishing of our peoples rather than serving any career or other ambitions.

“Pacific researchers are held accountable to the mamas and papas of our communities, so we don't want to upset them.

“Unfortunately, being a researcher doesn't preclude you from getting a good growling.”

The support of his “village of supervisors and advisors, mamas, papas and siblings at the University of Otago” is incredibly important as he embarks on this research journey, he says.

“I'm excited for the journey ahead and for what this opportunity means for my family, especially my Dad. I pray he'll be able to celebrate with us upon its completion.”

Dr Letava Tafuna’i has received the Pacific Health Masters Scholarship, valued at $31,800, for her research on the knowledge, attitudes and practices of Samoans living in Aotearoa and Samoa in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Pacific Health Summer Studentship – 3 months, $5,000

Caitlin Bland, University of Otago, Christchurch

Audit of implementation of single-dose rifampicin chemoprophylaxis for leprosy
Control and elimination of leprosy is a major goal identified in the Strategic Plan published by the Kiribati Ministry of Health (MoH). A chemoprophylaxis programme was established in 2018 by the Pacific Leprosy Foundation with the MoH in response to the increasing incidence between 2013 and 2017. Single-Dose Rifampicin (SDR) prophylaxis for household members of those suffering from leprosy was introduced in 2018. This research will analyse the difference between leprosy in Kiribati before and after SDR prophylaxis was introduced. The aim of this project is to evaluate its coverage and acceptability before the ambitious second phase of mass chemoprophylaxis. A report will be provided to the MoH in Kiribati and may identify gaps in implementation that may need to be addressed to achieve health targets. The ability to publish this data will also help guide future public health research initiatives.

Peyton Fields, University of Otago

Natural products of Samoan medicinal plants
The overall objective of this summer project is to use a range of analytical techniques to chemically profile selected Samoan medicinal plants, and then to isolate bioactive compounds. This work is important not only in discovering new bioactive agents for treating diseases, but also in improving awareness of the efficacy and, more importantly, the safety of Samoan medicinal plants. The studies involved in this project have the potential to contribute to Samoa’s economy through the generation of value-added products, such as plant-based health products, environmentally friendly pesticides, or growth regulators. A range of techniques are employed to get the best possible representation of the chemical composition of an extract before targeting compounds for isolation.

Fetuoleaniva Hunkin, University of Otago

Mai Mana – A Pacific Resilience Project
A study assessing those resilience factors that enabled our Pasifika communities to flourish in the face of adversity during and post-COVID 19 lockdown periods.

Julia Kayes, University of Otago, Christchurch

The breath of a mother: A review of Te Hā Waitaha smokefree pregnancy incentive
This involves evaluating the performance of a pregnancy incentive programme conducted by the Canterbury District Health Board via the Smokefree provider Te Ha Waitaha. It focuses on the long-term effect of this programme on smoking cessation, which has been offered since 2017. The programme has previously succeeded in engaging Māori and Pacific Islander smokers. This research would focus on the success in the long term. The participants involved in the programme are offered motivational support and vouchers to the total value of $280 throughout their pregnancy. This study would use a telephone survey of participants who were Smokefree at birth, to gather data on self-reporting Smokefree status at one year and up to five years after the programme/birth. I will also be asking participants if they are willing to participate in focus groups for future studies to explore other ways to improve the support available in this area.

Aislinn Reid, University of Otago

Medicine storage
I will be looking at medication storage within seven Pacific families located in Dunedin and Porirua. This will be part of a larger project called 'Access to medicines: Exploring lived experience to inform policies and programmes', led by Professor Pauline Norris at Va’a o Tautai, University of Otago. I will look into the understanding that these families have of how to keep their medication, what information they are told by their health professionals, and what information that may be lacking.