Science at work in the health sector

Overshadowed perhaps by the government’s push to improve care for cancer patients, an initiative by the Heart Foundation with the Healthier Lives National Science Challenge in making a $2m grant for a research programme, has high significance in the health sector.

Heart disease is NZ’s single biggest killer, claiming the lives of more than 6,300 NZers every year – that’s one person every 90 minutes. More than 22,000 Māori and more than 7,000 Pacific people are living with heart disease.

The new three-year study, the first major programme of its kind in NZ, aims to improve access to healthcare for Māori and Pacific people, which has the potential to achieve equity in heart health outcomes for all NZers.

One  of  NZ’s  outstanding figures in health  research, Professor Jim Mann, who is director of the Healthier Lives Challenge, says the joint venture  with the Heart Foundation “will help to realise the vision of equitable health outcomes for Aotearoa NZ through a substantially reduced burden of cardiovascular diseases.”

The research involves finding out what barriers people face in accessing healthcare and coming up with a plan to reduce them.

Available approaches to prevention and treatment have the potential to halve the risk of heart disease but Māori and Pacific people are less likely to receive treatment and more likely to suffer from and die of heart disease than other NZers. On average, Māori and Pacific people’s lives are seven years shorter than other NZers. Barriers to accessing healthcare are considered to be important contributors to this.

The researchers will explore how the risk of heart disease is assessed and managed, and what can be done to reduce delays and improve access to hospital care and post-hospital management of heart disease. They will then develop a roadmap for health policy makers and providers, which could alter the way healthcare is delivered across primary and secondary care.

Dr Corina Grey, from the University of Auckland, is co-leader of the team of researchers along with co-leader Associate Professor Matire Harwood.

Dr Grey is a public health doctor and leading researcher in Pacific and heart health. She holds positions at the Section of Epidemiology and Biostatistics (University of Auckland) and in Planning and Funding at Waitematā and Auckland DHBs.

Associate Professor Harwood is a leading Māori health researcher with over 50 peer-reviewed scientific publications. She has led numerous research projects into the inequities between indigenous and non-indigenous people. She is a practising General Practitioner and holds a position at the Department of General Practice, University of Auckland.

And here are the statistics that the research project seeks to transform:

37% of Māori and 39% of Pacific CVD deaths happen before the age of 65, compared to one in 10 for non-Māori, non-Pacific.

More than 22,000 Māori and more than 7,000 Pacific people are living with heart disease.

1,013 Māori deaths in 2016 from CVD. 60% of these were premature (before age 75).

372 Pacific deaths in 2016 from CVD. 60% of these were premature (before age 75).

The Healthier Lives Science Challenge is one of 11 set up by the previous National   government as cross-disciplinary, mission-led programmes designed to tackle NZ’s biggest science-based challenges.

Working from funding of $31m spread over 10 years, Professor Mann’s team has already won extensive recognition for its innovative research aimed at significantly reducing the death and disease burden of some of NZ’s leading health problems.

Point of Order contends the government should be allocating greater funding to this   kind of scientific research.

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