Last Friday, a group of over 120 people gathered on a cold, blustery Autumn night in a hall above a burnt out pub on Bedford Street in Cannons Creek, Porirua, to hear about a ground-breaking project to change health outcomes in one of the neediest Pacific communities in New Zealand.
In a 'first', the renowned research centre, Maurice Wilkins Centre, hosted by the University of Auckland, will team up with the only Pacific owned & governed health service in the Wellington region, Pacific Health Plus - literally based on the street below in Cannons Creek - to battle very significant health problems faced by Pacific people.
The project will look to the community to further ground-breaking research which has revealed that Pacific and Māori people have a gene which predisposes them to heart disease, diabetes and obesity and also to study youth to track impacts of sugar.
Everyone in the room was buzzing to be part of something which will draw attention to Pacific needs with real tangible outcomes and ways to improve quality of life and life expectancy.
Speaking to the excited and expectant group was an impressive line-up of VIPs:
• John Fiso, chair of the Fiso Investment Group and Pacific Health Plus
• Professor Peter Shepherd, Deputy Director of the Maurice Wilkins Centre
• Hon Kris Faafoi, Member of Parliament for Mana
• Mayor of Porirua, Mike Tana
• Paul Eagle, Member of Parliament for Rongotai
• Dr Rosemary Hall, Endocrine, Diabetes and Diabetes Research Centre, Capital & Coast District Health Board
• Pastor Teremoana Tauira Maka, Pacific Health Plus Advisory Board, Pastor of the Victory Church
• Reverend Perema Leasi
Also in attendance was the team from the Maurice Wilkins Centre; representatives from health and social service providers in Porirua; significant church leaders; members of the Cannons Creek community and Pacific Health Plus board members.
Pastor Teremoana, as the first speaker of the evening, explained how Pacific Health Plus, the medical centre in Cannons Creek (previously called Porirua Health Services) had been servicing the community for 10 years but acknowledged that the time had come to take the service to the next level, and that recent investment by the Fiso Investment Group will allow this.
Mike Tana, Mayor of Porirua said the evening was a ‘celebration of Porirua and Pacific Health Plus’ and thanked everyone for their ‘love of Porirua’ and how this next step with a new and meaningful research project was a positive one for the area with lives to be changed for the better. Mr Tana said that self-determination is the best way forward for communities and this project - ‘for Pacific by Pacific is an awesome example of this’.
Hon Kris Fafooi, MP for Mana, acknowledged John Fiso by saying how since the Fiso Group came in to help Pacific Health Plus he had seen ‘nothing but action’, and the speed with which the partnership with Maurice Wilkins was established shows commitment to a community. Minister Fafooi also thanked the Maurice Wilkins Centre for recognition that ‘for Pacific by Pacific’ was the most effective way forward.
John Fiso, chair of the Fiso Group and Pacific Health Plus, thanked the VIPs in attendance and those in the room who had shown goodwill and had helped.
Mr Fiso acknowledged the importance of data as part of properly understanding problems and determining solutions and that self-determination was critical to the data being used successfully - “with research owned and delivered by the people who will benefit from the outcomes to ensure integrity of the data”.
“This is a milestone for Pacific Health Plus - a project which will bring real change,” said Mr Fiso. “However, we need more debate about solutions for Pacific people and we cannot look at health in isolation - we need to factor in housing, employment and education as part of the real solution.
“We will seek further partnerships as a way forward - but we recognise that building trust and confidence through successful delivery of our projects is key to this,” said Mr Fiso.
Professor Peter Shepherd, Deputy Director of the Maurice Wilkins Centre commented on what a privilege it is to work with Pacific Health Plus. He explained how Professor Maurice Wilkins, who the Centre is named after, was a New Zealander who won the Nobel Prize for Medicine, and that for Professor Shepherd, the centre’s name signifies the potential for New Zealand to use scientific research to achieve better outcomes for its citizens.
“It is time to break boundaries and work as one to change the health landscape for Pacific people in New Zealand,” said Professor Shepherd. “And we are not going to change the world from our ivory towers behind university walls - but by working in the community as partners.
“We have to move fast, we can’t waste time,” Professor Shepherd said. “We cannot assume that because medicine is tested on people in the US that it will work for our Māori and Pacific communities - we must look at how genetics influence this. We also need to harness links schools, communities and education to help achieve better outcomes.
“I am excited about the opportunity Pacific Health Plus provides for the community to be part of finding the answers and creating the solutions. The fact we are here tonight opening a cutting edge research centre above a burnt out pub that sits beside a red stickered building in this very needy area of Wellington is symbolic of what Pacific people face - and the Maurice Wilkins Centre wants to be part of changing that and helping the community reach the heights it deserves.”
Dr Rosemary Hall said that Pacific people, who have highest rate of diabetes in NZ, had been failed and their needs were not being met. “We need to better understand the reasons for different rates of diabetes within different groups and see the situation in context of the bigger picture. Having evidence, from research, and having Pacific lead this is critical,” Dr Hall said.
Further information on the Pacific Health Plus and Maurice Wilkins Centre research partnership is below in the Editor's notes.
The Maurice Wilkins Centre is a national Centre of Research Excellence that brings together over 400 of New Zealand’s top scientists and clinicians from all over the country.
Pacific Health Plus is a primary healthcare service in Cannons Creek, Porirua, and is the only Pacific owned and governed healthcare service for Pacific people in the Wellington region. It services over 2000 people in the Cannons Creek community.