The Research Unit is part of the Dean’s Office. Its services are available to all departments and students. The Research Unit is headed by Dr Graham Roberts MHA by Research (UNSW), DTPH (Syd), Cert H. Ed (UNSW), PhD (UNSW). The Unit serves functions both within the College of Medicine and in its external relationships with collaborating academic institutions, the Fiji Government, donors, United Nations agencies, regional agencies and the general community. The unit’s staff includes a Research Fellow (Sharon Biribo), a Bioethicist (Jyotishna Mudaliar), a Database Manager (Nola Vanualailai), a Publications Officer (Mabel Taoi) and Administrative Assistant (Setita Naqelevuki) with graphics skills and offshore statistical support through Deakin University; and many other people working on specific projects.
1. Within the College of Medicine, the Research Unit provides a course and instructors for the Master of Medicine research project and is available to provide support to research students in all Departments of the College. Several projects are currently continuing while others are commencing. (See Our Research Centres and Our Partnerships). The Director of Research is responsible for developing FSMed’s research policies and scientific and ethics approval processes. The Research Team is currently involved in:
* Strengthening academic supervision in all Departments
* Finalising FSMed research policy set
* Consolidating the scientific and ethics approval processes of both MoH and FSMed
* Creating a staff and student research grant scheme and access to Master by Research and PhD programmes
* Providing training and support on research proposal development
* Collaborating with international academic and research institutions
* Submitting proposals to research funders
2. Our Research Centres
2.1. PACIFIC STI & HIV RESEARCH CENTRE (PSHRC)
PSHRC was launched in June 2009 by Dr Dennie Iniakwalia of SPC and the Solomon Islands, who leads the Pacifc Regional HIV Implementation Strategy. In November, 2008, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed by the University of New South Wales and the then Fiji School of Medicine to establish PSHRC to conduct HIV & STI research in the Pacific. PSHRC will also train graduate students in HIV/STI research to increase the capacity in the region to conduct indigenous HIV/STI research. Ms. Avelina Rokoduru commenced as the Centre Coordinator in April 2009. This initiative is funded by AusAID via the HIV Consortium for Partnerships in Asia and the Pacific. Research has commenced into social issues in Fiji and the region.
The first publication of this Centre is: Roberts, G. Mudaliar, J. Prakash, B. and Biribo, S. 2008, Regional Guidelines for Good Research Practice in Relation to HIV and Sexually Transmitted Infections, prepared for the Secretariat of the Pacific Community and the Regional HIV Implementation Strategy. Further publications are being prepared on Barriers to HIV and other STI service uptake in Fiji, Solomon Islands, Micronesia and Kiribati: Perceptions of Youth and of Reproductive Health Workers. Work is also being conducted by Karen McMillan on the risks of STI and HIV exposure associated with sex work. These papers are currently in draft form and will be available soon. PSHRC has recently been successful in its aplication to the SPC Response Fund to conduct Secondary Analysis of the Second Generation HIV Surveillance Surveys in the region and is currently in the process of setting that study up. PSHRC has also been available to FJN+ to support them in their research for the Global Network of HIV Positive People (GN+) on the International Stigma Index, and in their proposal to the SPC Response Fund to evaluate the STI & HIV Hub Centres in Fiji from the perspective of service users, and to evaluate FJN+ member's and selected target groups' perceptions of FJN+ services. Both of these projects were assisted by PSHRC to achieve National Health Research Committee approval.
2.2. CENTRE FOR THE PREVENTION OF OBESITY AND NON-COMMUNICABLE DISEASES (C-POND)
C-POND is a partnership between the College of Medicine and Deakin University. CPOND was launched on 25 August 2009 by the WHO Representative to the Pacific Region, Dr Chen Ken. The Co-ordinator, Wendy Snowden, was appointed to commence C-POND operations in 2008.The partnership has a strong track record of collaboration through the OPIC project, the existing joint funding for the TROPIC project, and anticipates the prospect of future research funding for obesity and NCD prevention.
The Pacific region has the highest burden of obesity and non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in the world. Diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and cancer are expensive for low-income countries such as those in the Pacific region; therefore, preventive efforts are a high priority. The aim of C-POND is to provide a Pacific centre of excellence in research, research training, programme and policy evaluation, knowledge translation, and other research-related activities for the prevention of obesity and NCDs. C-POND’s geographic scope is the Pacific region and its content scope, research activities on the determinants of obesity and NCDs in Pacific populations and, in particular, solutions for their prevention.
Incorporating: TRANSLATIONAL RESEARCH for OBESITY PREVENTION IN COMMUNITIES (TROPIC)
The Wellcome Trust, NHMRC, and HRC (NZ) funded the Pacific Obesity Prevention in Communities (OPIC) project which operated in Fiji and Tonga until June 2009 and has extended for one year. Subsequently, we are pleased to announce our continuing collaboration with Prof. Boyd Swinburn and team from Deakin University through an Australian Development Research Award to conduct the next stage of this activity - The Pacific TROPIC Project (Translation Research for Obesity Prevention In Communities). Funding for TROPIC in Tonga is being provided through a bilateral grant through AusAID.
The overall aim of the TROPIC Project is: To evaluate the processes and impacts of knowledge translation systems in Fiji and Tonga which provide the influential ‘change-agents’ with the necessary knowledge and skills to encourage healthy eating and physical activity for obesity prevention. The TROPIC project is headed by Mrs. Gade Waqa who was previously central to the running of OPIC in Fiji. In Tonga, our OPIC staff member (Kalasita Fotu) has moved to the Ministry of Health and will continue with TROPIC.
2.3. CENTRE FOR HEALTH INFORMATION, POLICY AND SYSTEMS RESEARCH (CHIPSR)
CHIPSR commenced operations on 1 February 2010 with the appointment of Dr Wayne Irava (PhD) as the Co-ordinator. The Director of Research is currently in the process of negotiating funding support for this Centre. It is anticipated that CHIPSR will become a major activity of the Research Unit and provide the opportunity for staff, students and College of Medicine adjunct staff to research operational issues and to provide evidence for health policy developments in Fiji and the Pacific.
CHIPSR is already affiliated with the Alliance for Health Policy and Systems Research (WHO Geneva), the Asia Pacific National Health Accounts Network (APNHAN) and is in early-stage collaboration with Nossal Institute at Melbourne University, the Menzies Centre for Health Policy at the University of Sydney, MONASH University, and the University of New South Wales.
3. Our Partnerships
Our partnerships are many – and several of them are mentioned above. The Research Unit is continually developing partnerships with individual students, staff members pursuing research degrees and international collaborators. Periodic updates of these pages will refer to new and developing partnerships.
Three recent partnership activities deserve special mention:
3.1. BURNET INSTITUTE (Drugs, alcohol and HIV transmission)
We are currently in the write-up phase of a study titled Relationship of Drug & Alcohol to HIV STI Transmission. The study is being carried out with the Pacific Drug and Alcohol Research Network (PDARN) co-ordinated by the Burnet Institute in Melbourne. The study has been headed-up by Elenoa Seru Puamau, College of Medicine staff members and a PDARN member. The study has progressed well with data analysis is most complete. We anticipate that the relationship with PDARN, Professor Robert Power and his team at the Centre for Harm Reduction at Burnett will continue.
3.2. MINISTRY of EDUCATION, UNICEF and SPC (Family Life Education – evaluating the new curriculum)
The Research Unit recently completed a baseline study in 9 schools in Fiji against which the new Family Life Education Curriculum will be evaluated over the next 3 years. The study was conducted by Elenoa Seru Puamau and Dr Roberts, assisted by Jyoti Mudaliar.
3.3. UNIVERSITY of AUCKLAND, WELLCOME TRUST (Traffic Related Injury Prevention)
The data collection for TRIPs is complete and findings will be released soon in a series of academic papers. Three current academic staff members in the Department of Public Health & Primary Care developed their research skills on the TRIP project and are currently writing.
4. Recent reports for Donor and UN Agencies by Staff and Postgraduate Students
Roberts, G. Mudaliar, J. Prakash, B. 2006. Impact Evaluation of the Northern Division Health Radio Network, Fiji Health Sector Improvement Program, Suva
Seru-Puamau, E. Roberts, G. Seru, N. Parks, W. & Niubaleirua, M. 2006. Post-training perceptions of capacity for health promotion research, monitoring and evaluation, Fiji Health Sector Improvement Program, Suva
Roberts, G. 2007. Evaluation of Men as Partners in Reproductive Health Through Organized Workforce, UNFPA, Suva
Roberts, G. Mudaliar, J. Leweniqila, M. and Salusalu, M. 2007. Inventory of available contents, norms, standards, tools in capacity building in HIV care, treatment and support in the Pacific – to sustain and perform functions of the HIV care team, WHO Suva
Roberts, G. Mudaliar, J. Prakash, B. and Biribo,S. 2008. Draft Regional Guidelines for Good Research Practice in relation to HIV and Sexually Transmitted Infections, Secretariat for the Pacific Community, Regional HIV Implementation Plan,
Roberts, G. Chute, R. Seru Puamau, E. Mudaliar, J. Mitini, J. and Tovu, V. Avian Influenza/ Pandemic Influenza Preparedness and Response: Regional overview of Behavioral Interventions and Communication Strategies in Fiji, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu. UNICEF, January 2008.
Roberts, G. Mudaliar, J. and Chand, S. Improved understanding of Barriers to HIV and other STI service uptake in small island settings: a five country study. Pacific Regional HIV Plan Output 2.B.b. currently in draft for SPC
Roberts, G. 2007. Evaluation of Men as Partners in Reproductive Health Through Organized Workforce, UNFPA, Suva
Seru- Puamau E. and Roberts G. A pre-intervention study in the implementation of school-based family life education, Secretariat of the Pacific Community, March 2008, ISBN 978-982-00-0359-0
Roberts G. Solomon Islands NCD Risk Factor STEPS Report, WHO, October 2009
Sutton R., Roberts G. & Lingam D. Fiji Health Sector Situational Analysis, AusAID and Ministry of Health Fiji, December 2008