Unless Pacific communities are consulted on health policy,
Pacific health will continue to deteriorate, a Victoria University
of Wellington academic warns.
Dr Aliitasi Su'a Tavila from Victoria's Health Services Research
Centre, says New Zealand's health statistics confirm that the
Pacific population is at risk.
"The health of the Pacific population has been lagging behind
others in New Zealand for the last 60 years and it looks set to get
worse unless we do things differently," she says.
As an academic health researcher, Dr Su'a Tavila offers a
non-medical perspective, which indicates that the issues reach
beyond the medical model of care.
Taking into consideration Pacific people's unique world view,
she suggests a robust partnership amongst health professionals,
policy makers and the community is the right approach to ensure
health priorities are achieved.
"Unless communities agree and strategise for themselves then we
are only perpetuating what has failed in the past," says Dr Su'a
Dr Su'a Tavila undertook her postdoctoral research
internationally where she analysed and examined other Pacific
nations' health strategies to identify barriers and gaps which may
contribute to the declining health of the Pacific population
globally. One of the key issues Dr Su'a Tavila looked at was the
availability of data to support health strategies for Pacific
"There is often a lack of such information, yet it is a really
important part of any strategies to improve health," she says.
Dr Su'a Tavila recently completed a five-week fellowship at the
University of Hawai'i to examine the health strategies of native
Hawaiians. She says the University's Department of Native Hawaiian
Health had established a successful partnership with the wider
community, focused on the prevention of non-communicable
One of the highlights of her fellowship was her introduction to
the MA'O Organic Farm. This farm offers a variety of
community-based and education programmes for young people and
adults. Its strategic focus is to address five main aspects of its
local population's welfare and wellbeing: out-of-school youth,
sustainable economic development, agriculture, health and Hawaiian
The uniqueness of the MA'O Organic Farm initiative was the
reintegration and re-establishment of the local community through
family-based activities, nurturing and growing their youth and
their families within an environment of communal ownership and
pride. Dr Su'a Tavila believes this initiative could be introduced
in New Zealand as a pilot programme to help address many social
issues around Pacific and non-Pacific population.
"Involving the community made a difference and increased the
native people's willingness to participate in the health
programme," she says.