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Thursday 1 November 2018 12:32pm

Wellington's Professor Tony Blakely, this year's recipient of the Chaffer Medal for distinguished performance in health research .

The Chaffer Medal.

One of the country's leading epidemiologists and public health researchers has been awarded this year's Chaffer Medal for distinguished performance in health research.

Professor Tony Blakely, from the University of Otago, Wellington, is credited with helping to change public health policy and improving the health of the country's disadvantaged.

He will receive the medal, awarded by the Otago Postgraduate Medical Society (OPMS), on Friday 7 December when he will deliver a special Grand Round presentation in the Barnett lecture theatre at Dunedin Hospital.

Head of Wellington's Department of Public Health Professor Diana Sarfati says the impact of Professor Blakely's work has been significant for many people.

“He has highlighted the socio-economic and ethnic disparities which have had an important role in driving the agendas of many governments.”

She says one of Professor Blakely's great strengths is his ability to communicate his research findings and he has been an active contributor to public, political and media debates on a range of public health issues.

Professor Blakely's research is characterised by the development and application of advanced epidemiological and other methods to key public health issues.

"He has highlighted the socio-economic and ethnic disparities which have had an important role in driving the agendas of many governments."

Professor Sarfati describes him as “world class in terms of his methodological capacity and talent” and says he has played a major role in improving the methodological rigour of epidemiological research in New Zealand.

Professor Blakely initiated the pioneering New Zealand Census-Mortality Study which linked the national censuses with mortality data to allow research on ethnic and socio-economic inequalities and the contribution of smoking to mortality. He has also led the parallel study, Cancer Trends.

With funding from the Healthier Lives National Science Challenge, he has led the setting up of the Virtual Health Information Network (VHIN) which assists researchers to do high quality health research using the Statistics New Zealand Integrated Data Infrastructure (IDI) and other administrative health data.

In addition, he directed the Health Inequalities Research Programme from 2004 which encompassed the SoFIE-Health study, a series of neighbourhoods and health research projects, and cancer survival studies.

He currently directs the HRC-funded Burden of Disease Epidemiology, Equity and Cost Effectiveness programme, a suite of epidemiological and economic models for determining the impact of health interventions (e.g. tobacco control, radiotherapy, food taxes) on future health gains, health inequalities and health system costs.

Medal lost and found

The Chaffer Medal to be awarded to Professor Blakely is a replica of one found by a young child on an Auckland street more than 60 years ago.

Five-year-old Jeanette Waters was in her first week of school when she found the medal on a road near her house.

Over time she made attempts to find out about its history but it was only in recent years that she discovered it had links with the University of Otago.

It transpires that the original medal was awarded to Dr Harold Chaffer, of Yorkshire, for the excellence of his medical studies in anatomy at the then-St Mungo's College Medical School in Glasgow, Scotland, in 1895-96.

Dr Chaffer went on to marry the daughter of a former leading Dunedin hardware trader and their daughter, Christina MacLean Laird (who lived in Auckland), subsequently made a $5,000 gift to the University of Otago, to honour her father's memory.

Learning this, Mrs Waters decided to donate the medal to the Otago Medical School and it now sits in a display cabinet with other property of the Alumnus Association of the School.

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