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Pacific health researchers

Meet some of our established and emerging researchers working in Pacific health within the Division of Health Sciences.

Meet our Pacific health researchers

Dr Allamanda Faatoese

Cardiovascular risk among indigenous and ethnic minority communities, University of Otago, Christchurch

Allamanda Faatoese imageRole: Pacific Postdoctoral Research Fellow
Qualifications: BSc PhD

Dr Faatoese was awarded the 2014 HRC Pacific Postdoctoral Fellowship which supported her interests in novel lipoprotein biomarkers and their associations with cardiovascular risk among Māori and non-Māori communities. This award and subsequent Heart Foundation NZ awards have enabled the recruitment of a Pacific Island cohort from the Christchurch community in collaboration with Pacific Trust Canterbury, the South Island's largest whanau ora Pacific Health provider.

She has supervised three summer studentships:

  • Vidya Yugaraja 2013–14, Funder: University of Otago, Full Circle Theme
  • Sela Sikaleti 2014–15, Co-supervisor, Funder: Pacific Leprosy Foundation
  • Brogan Maoate 2015–16, Funder: HRC Pacific Health Research Summer Studentship

More about Allamanda:

Dr Ella Iosua

Biostatistics consulting and research, University of Otago, Dunedin

Ella Iosua imageDr Iosua collaborates with the Division of Health Sciences' clinical and scientific staff, and other health researchers, in the development of high quality interdisciplinary research programmes, paying particular attention to excellence in terms of the statistical components of their design, implementation, analysis, and reporting.

The biostatistics team develop, evaluate, and implement new statistical methodology relevant to clinical, epidemiological, and health research, and provide advice and support to students and research workers in the Division of Health Sciences.

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Dr Jesse Kokaua

Pacific health, University of Otago, Dunedin

Jesse Kokaua imageJesse is a Cook Islander living in Dunedin. He completed his PhD thesis on an application of Bayesian statistical models to analyse prevalence of mental disorder and service-use patterns among Cook Islanders in New Zealand. He is currently a member of research staff with the Centre for Pacific Health.

In November 2016 Jesse was awarded an HRC Pacific Health Research Postdoctoral Fellowship investigating health implications from education for Pasifika people and their families. This study investigated to what extent health outcomes, particularly mental health outcomes, among Pasifika are related to education, and to tease out whether this is a direct or indirect association.The first part looked at health outcomes of graduates from University study in New Zealand. The second looked at health outcomes for Pasifika families associated with education.

Jesse co-supervised Acelini Hakopa's master's project on mental health. He has also co-supervised Eirenei Tauai's 2015-16 HRC Summer Studentship project on language's impact on mental health and also Damaris Dekker's project on preventable illness in Pacific children.

Jesse's PhD research explored an immigrant paradox where a migrant ethnic group appears to report healthier outcomes than a similar ethnic but non-migrant group. Jesse was supervised by Professor Elisabeth Wells, Dr Patrick Graham, and Professor Richie Poulton.

You can read more about this study in the 2015 Pacific Voices Symposium publication:

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Dr Kiki Maoate

Paediatrics and urology MB ChB(Otago) FRACS, University of Otago, Christchurch

Kiki Maoate image Kiki has research interests in incidence of childhood Helicobacter Pylori infection in Pacific Islanders, study of long-term outcomes after herniotomy and orchidopexy in children and laparoscopic surgery.

Kiki is a paediatric surgeon and urologist at Christchurch Public Hospital and Children's Specialist Centre Ltd. He is also Associate Dean Pacific for University of Otago, Christchurch.

He was born in the Cook Islands and educated at the University of Otago and is a Senior Lecturer in paediatric surgery at the University of Otago, Christchurch, and an advisor on paediatric surgery, Fiji School of Medicine.

He is currently developing outreach services to the Pacific Island countries in conjunction with the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (AUSAID), with the aid of the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Kiki plays an advisory role to the Ministry of Health on Pacific Island issues.

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Dr Rosalina Richards

Pacific health, sleep and wellbeing, University of Otago, Dunedin

Rose Richards imageDr Richards is Associate Dean (Pacific) for the Dunedin School of Medicine, Director of the Centre for Pacific Health in Va’a o Tautai, Division of Health Sciences, and convenor for the new Pacific and Global Health major in the Bachelor of Health Sciences.

There are numerous health challenges currently facing Pacific populations. Growing a health workforce which is able to work effectively with Pacific families is an important part of responding to these challenges. It is an exciting time to be involved in Pacific Health Research, with a steadily building population of talented and committed Pacific Researchers, a growing collection of models and methodologies that allow Pacific experiences to be accurately and respectfully captured and a multitude of community strengths on which to base interventions to improve health and well-being.

Rosalina’s background is in behavioural psychology and public health and she collaborates on research across a number of areas. She is currently Principal Investigator on a HRC Pacific Project about sleep health among Pacific families and part of the Big Data team of the Better Start National Science Challenge. As former co-Director of the Cancer Society and Behavioral Research Unit she has published across a variety of cancer prevention areas, including physical activity, nutrition, tobacco control and supportive care.

Rosalina co-supervised Acelini Hakopa's master's project on mental health. She also co-supervised Troy Ruhe's, Eirenei Tauai's, and Damaris Dekker's HRC 2015–16 Summer Studentship projects.

Dr Latika Samalia

Anatomy, University of Otago, Dunedin

Latika Samalia imageLatika is the Pacific support person for the Otago School of Medical Sciences, and is a member of the Otago Pacific Academic Caucus. She is a Professional Practice Fellow who teaches anatomy in several professional programmes: medicine, dentistry, physiotherapy and pharmacy. Her research interests include the clinical education of our health workforce.

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Dr Dianne Sika-Paotonu

Pathology and Molecular Medicine, University of Otago, Wellington

Dianne Sika-Paotonu image Dr Dianne Sika-Paotonu is the Associate Dean (Pacific) at the University of Otago's Wellington campus. Dr Sika-Paotonu is the first Tongan and Pacific biomedical scientist to be appointed to this role within the Division of Health Sciences at Otago. She will be leading the Pacific team at the Wellington campus to support Pacific students to ensure the successful completion of their selected study courses and programmes.

"I am committed to supporting the Wellington campus' ongoing commitment to strengthening pre-existing relationships with our Pacific communities locally and abroad, and also committed to establishing new partnerships locally and extending into the Region and beyond," she says.

Dr Sika-Paotonu is also the scientific lead for penicillin research work based in New Zealand that seeks to support global efforts to reformulate Benzathine Penicillin G for the management of Rheumatic Fever. 

Dr Sika-Paotonu was the recipient of the 2019 HRC Sir Thomas Davis Te Patu Kite Rangi Ariki Fellowship, she will investigate the applicability of ctDNA as a diagnostic tool for early cancer detection.

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Faumuina Associate Professor Fa'afetai Sopoaga

Pacific health, University of Otago, Dunedin

Faumuina Sopoaga image Roles: Associate Professor and Associate Dean (Pacific)
Qualifications: MB ChB MPH FNZCPHM FRNZCGP

Faumuina Associate Professor Fa'afetai Sopoaga is the Associate Dean (Pacific) in the Division of Health Sciences. In 2018 Faumina won the Prime Minister's Supreme Teaching Excellence Award with an endorsement in Supporting Pacific Learners.

The Office of the Associate Dean (Pacific) provides oversight for all Pacific activities in the Division of Health Sciences. As the Director of the Pacific Islands Research and Student Support Unit (PIRSSU), her role is to recruit, retain, and ensure a high completion rate for Pacific students in the Division. The support services provided for Pacific students is guided through evidence from the close monitoring and evaluation of all support services. She is responsible for monitoring the Divisional response to the Pacific Strategic Framework goals, provides guidance for engagement with Pacific communities and led developments which resulted in the establishment of the Otago Pacific Academic Caucus.

Faumuina is the high chief title from Fagaloa, Samoa. She trained as a medical doctor with expertise in public health and general practice. She is leading development in the Pacific Health curriculum in Health Sciences, through the Department of Preventive and Social Medicine, and has wide connections and networks with the Pacific community in New Zealand and the Pacific region. Her research interests are in health workforce capacity building, transitioning students to higher education and Pacific health curriculum. She is currently undertaking doctoral studies on “The health and wellbeing of Pacific students in Higher Education”.

Faumuina co-supervised three HRC 2015–16 Summer Studentships: Mel Mauiliu, Ryder Fuimaono, and James Devoe.

Ola Malohi Study

Ola Malohi logo well-being logo imageFirst-year Pacific student? Find out about the Ola Malohi study and help us improve support for students.

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Dr Malama Tafuna'i

2019 HRC Pacific Clinical Research Training Fellowship recipient

Malama Tafuna'i imageDr Malama Tafuna'i is investigating the 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). Māori and Pacific people in NZ carry this burden with a 3-5 times 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.

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Dr Ramona Tiatia

2016 HRC Pacific postdoctoral fellowship: housing, University of Otago, Wellington

Ramona Tiatia image Dr Tiatia's fellowship is funded for four years to develop an app for houses and households (A4HH). Ramona is part of the He Kainga Oranga Healthy Housing Programme within the Department of Public Health, University of Otago, Wellington.

Ramona is also a member of the Otago Pacific Academic Caucus.

Ramona's PhD thesis:
Tiatia, R. (2014). Family-Centred Healing At Home: A Samoan Epistemology of Samoan Families’ Experiences of Home Dialysis and Home Detention in Aotearoa/New Zealand (Thesis, Doctor of Philosophy). University of Otago. Retrieved from http://hdl.handle.net/10523/4916

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