Each year the PHA honours individuals or groups for their outstanding contribution to public health action by naming them Public Health Champion for the year.
Professor Michael Baker
In the early days of the pandemic, Michael was a key voice advocating for a national lockdown and arguing for NZ to take an elimination approach rather than following the influenza pandemic playbook.
Throughout the year he has tirelessly advised, advocated and appeared in the media, helping New Zealanders to understand the epidemiology of COVID-19 and the implications for action. Michael has become a household name this year, but his huge contribution to Public Health began decades earlier.
In the 1980s he was an advisor to the Minister of Health on HIV/AIDS and was instrumental in NZ becoming the first country to provide a national needle exchange programme. In the mid-2000s Michael’s research exposed the extent of campylobacter contamination in chicken in NZ –the highest in the developed world. His advocacy on the issue resulted in a several interventions that led to a rapid halving in campylobacter infections and hospitalisations. More recently Michael and his research team have turned their attention to rheumatic fever, conducting an ongoing programme of research aimed at pinpointing the causes and most effective ways to prevent and control this disease and associated heart damage.
In 2013 the Health Research Council awarded Michael the Liley Medal for research revealing a dramatic rise in the incidence of serious infectious diseases and rising inequalities during the 1989 –2008 period in NZ. The findings, published in The Lancet, challenged the widely held view that infectious disease inevitably declines as a country’s GDP increases.
Michael has also made major contributions to public health workforce development. He has convened Otago University’s Public Health Summer School since 2006, expanding it to become one of the largest events of its kind internationally. He was Director of Continuing Professional for the NZ College of Public Health Medicine from 2008-19 and convened its ASMs over that period.
Despite Michael’s high-flying career as an internationally respected epidemiologist, he still finds time to support grass-roots and community initiatives such as Pink Shirt day, and the Big Sleepout. He has been a loyal member and supporter of PHANZ for many years, e.g. presenting at the annual PHANZ policy forum, and speaking at PHA Wellington Branch events, such as the Post Budget Breakfast and this year’s Child Wellbeing Election Forum.
Tū Rangatira mō te Ora Award
This annual award, given by the PHA, recognises outstanding achievement and leadership in Māori public health.
Professor Helen Moewaka Barnes
Helen Moewaka Barnes (Te Kapotai, Ngati Wai) has been a lifelong champion for Maori health, wellbeing and, advancement whose trail-blazing career has come from years of activism, innovation and leadership with Maori and international indigenous communities.
Since the early 1990s she has led Te Roopu Whariki at Auckland and now Massey Universities, through an evolving programme of contestably-funded research that has enabled multiple achievements in the area of realising community aspirations particularly in the areas of knowledge generation, kaitiakitanga and capability building. These successes have powered a community-led, 5 year Health Research Council Programme Tangata Whenua, Tangata Ora that draws from paa harakeke experiential data to re-theorise Maori health from a position of mana motuhake.Helen is Kaupapa Maori Theme Leader for A Better Start: E Tipu e Rea National Science Challenge.
She was theme leader for Te Aho Tapu in the 2015-2020 iteration of Nga Pae o te Maramatanga and now holds a senior strategic leadership position with the organisation which has just secured CoRE funding going forward. She leads and collaborates on multiple transdisciplinary projects, including being a named investigator on UK, USA and Canadian environments and health projects.
This new annual award, given by the PHA, recognises outstanding achievement and leadership in Pasifika-public health.
Dr El-Shadan (Dan)Taulolohas been championing Pacific public health for over 15 years in his role as an academic, beginning as a doctoral student, then an emerging researcher, and now an Associate Professor and Director of the AUT Pacific Health Research Centre at AUT University. His research interests span smoking cessation and tobacco control, father involvement and men's health, family functioning, and child and maternal mental health.
He leads numerous research projects, most notably the longitudinal Pacific Islands Families Study which has been tracking the health and development of a birth cohort of 1,398 Pacific children born at Middlemore Hospital in 2000 who are now aged 20 years. He has published over 50 peer-reviewed journal articles, won numerous research awards, and been granted over $15 million in research funding. This research has had substantial impact on the lives of Pacific peoples.
For example, findings have informed the Ministry of Health’s food and nutrition guidelines, CMDHB ‘Let’s beat diabetes’ service, early screening for otitis media with effusion, and Tala Pasifika smoking cessation interventions. Dan appears frequently in the media, raising the profile of issues and concerns that affect the interests and wellbeing of Pacific peoples. Recently, he spearheaded the production of a series of animated videos, produced for AUT and released in 2020 in sequence with the various Pacific language weeks, that highlighted key findings which have emerged from the Pacific Islands Families Study over the past 20 years.
Collectively, these videos attracted over 500,000 views and over 3,000 shares/retweets (see https://phrc.aut.ac.nz/our-research/pacific-islands-families-study). Despite his professional success, Dan is anything but an ivory tower academic, having strong roots in the Pacific community and links to Pacific networks through family, church, and work-related connections.