Source:Prime Minister's Prizes
A 28-member team of scientists whose research over more than 15
years has involved thousands of New Zealanders, earned
international acclaim and informed policy developments for
successive New Zealand governments has won the 2014 Prime
Minister's Science Prize.
The $500,000 prize has been presented to the He Kainga
Oranga/Housing and Health Research Programme, led by Professor
Philippa Howden-Chapman from the University of Otago, who is the
first woman research leader and the first social scientist to
receive the prestigious award.
Professor Howden-Chapman's five co-directors are Professors
Michael Baker and Julian Crane from the University of Otago,
Professors Chris Cunningham and Robyn Phipps from Massey University
and Dr Malcolm Cunningham formerly from BRANZ. The team is made up
of researchers in the areas of social science, epidemiology,
biostatistics, engineering, physics, architecture, building science
The team has worked nationwide to address long-standing quality
deficiencies in housing, particularly as they affect vulnerable
groups such as children, older people and those with chronic health
conditions including asthma.
Through large scale community trials, involving around 10,000 New
Zealanders, the team has tested, quantified and demonstrated the
effectiveness of initiatives such as retrofitting insulation to
modern standards, installing effective and non-polluting heating
and remediating injury hazards in homes.
One example is the team's collaborative work in evaluating the
Warm-Up New Zealand: Heat Smart Programme, which was based on the
robust evidence from two of its earlier randomised community
studies. This research showed that insulation and/or heating
retrofits led to significant reductions in hospitalisations, the
amount of medication required, energy consumption and premature
mortality of people aged 65 and over. A conservative estimate of
the programme's net benefit has been shown to be around $950
Another example is the team's work over a decade, monitoring
reductions in hospitalisation rates when low-income families move
from being private sector tenants to renting a state house.
Professor Howden-Chapman says she was motivated to establish the
team by concern about growing inequality in New Zealand and the
desire to do something practical to improve the health and
wellbeing of New Zealanders.
"There's been a long standing assumption that all New Zealanders
would own their own house but a lot of people now live in rental
housing. I wanted to provide evidence to support the premise that
everyone should have the right to warm, dry, safe housing
regardless of whether they own or rent."
Dr Carlos Dora, Coordinator of the WHO's Department of Public
Health and Environment says Professor Howden-Chapman and her team
are global leaders in the area of effective healthy housing
intervention and a source of evidence and inspiration for healthy
"We cherish their work and look forward to New Zealand's
continuing cutting edge scientific insights that allow us to build
a healthier and more equitable future," he says.
Nina Campbell, leader of the IEA's multiple benefits study, says
the team's work has positioned New Zealand as a front runner in
policy innovation. "Philippa's work stood out as one of the most
analytically robust and politically compelling pieces among the
huge range of studies we reviewed. These findings have attracted
keen interest from policy makers in IEA countries."
Professor Howden-Chapman attributes the team's success to the
robust design of its research and a commitment to working in
partnership with communities.
"I feel very proud of what our team's been able to do. We've gone
on a long journey together-many of the team have been involved from
the beginning and that's because they find it very rewarding to be
doing research that directly improves people's lives.
"Our team feels very honoured to have won the Prime Minister's
Science Prize. It's a fulsome acknowledgement of the work we've
done over a decade and a half and recognition to all those people
who've been involved in citizen science, helping us collect data
winter after winter, to understand and deal with a really serious
problem for New Zealand."
The team will use $400,000 of the prize money to carry out a
community trial on the impact of improving housing on new born
The 2014 Prime Minister's Science Prizes were presented to winners
on Tuesday 2 December at the Museum of New Zealand, Te Papa
Tongarewa in Wellington.