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Pacific health promoter turned doctoral researcher awarded HRC Fellowship

28 November 2022

He’s been a literal ‘posterboy’ for the University of Canterbury (UC), Les Mills, ChristchurchNZ, All Right? and Covid-19 vaccination campaigns – now UC doctoral student Suli Tuitaupe’s passion for wellbeing and health equity has earned him a research fellowship to improve health outcomes for Pacific people.


Having earned a Bachelor of Health Sciences in Physical Activity Promotion and Public Health and a Master of Health Sciences degree with an endorsement in Nursing from the University of Canterbury, Suli Tuitaupe is now studying towards a Doctor of Health Sciences (DHSc) degree, researching how to improve health outcomes and achieve health equity for Pacific communities in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Sustainable Development Goals 10 - Reduced Inequalities Sustainable Development Goals 10 - Reduced Inequalities

An outstanding health promoter and award-winning fitness instructor, Suli became famous for dancing to Island beats during the pandemic with 100,000 people watching his videos on social media. Now the registered nurse has been awarded with a Health Research Council (HRC) 2023 Pacific Clinical Training Fellowship to support his Pacific health research, worth $168,411 over 36 months. His research project is titled ‘Understanding the worldview of health from a Samoan New Zealander's perspective’.

“My goals in this research project are inspired by two themes: the health status of Pacific people is inferior to that of non-Pacific people because their needs are not met by the current health system; and while Pacific health models promote holistic wellbeing, limited research makes it impossible to determine whether these measures are effective in practice,” he says.

Suli plans to use the Talanoa Pasifika research methodology in a focus group setting to fully comprehend the health and worldview of Pacific communities, particularly Samoans born in Aotearoa New Zealand.

“These research findings will inform changes in practice and in the health system regarding the significance of recognising Pacific worldviews, identity, culture, and ethnicity as essential to health and wellbeing, consequently fostering a sense of belonging for Pacific communities in Aotearoa New Zealand.”

This is his latest accomplishment among many. He was bestowed the matai (high chief) title ‘Vui’ from the village of Leauva’a in Samoa earlier this month.

As a UC undergraduate student, Suli received multiple awards, winning a Ministry of Health Pacific Academic Scholarship, an Aniva Scholarship, a Pegasus Health Pacific Scholarship, and a Health Research Council Summer Studentship for his contribution to the Pasifika health community. He has also been a UC mentor, a tutor, and received a number of UC Pacific Achievers Awards for his high grades.

A practice nurse at Eastcare Health, Chairperson of Moana Vā Navigators of Pacific Pride, and Team Lead of Clinical & Health Promotion for Tangata Atumotu Trust, Suli is also a popular fitness class instructor at Les Mills Christchurch, winning the 2021 Community Instructor of the Year Award from the New Zealand Exercise Industry.

More about Suli Tuitaupe:

Two further University of Canterbury researchers also celebrated as part of the HRC 2023 Career Development Awards:

Dr Angus Lindsay - 2023 Sir Charles Hercus Health Research Fellowship

Generating hypertension to prevent mortality in Duchenne muscular dystrophy ($599,966 over 4 years)

Dr Angus Lindsay is developing an internationally recognised research program to understand the molecular mechanisms regulating neuronal and skeletal muscle dysfunction in Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD).

His research aims to enable generation of an acute hypertensive response in the mdx mouse model of DMD to prevent stress-induced death by hypotension. He will achieve this using gene therapy and oestrogen-based strategies that will directly inform clinical practice to prevent stress-induced hypotension in patients with DMD. Potential outcomes from the research could result in fine-tuning treatment strategies for the hundreds of New Zealanders living with DMD.

Dr Lindsay has received back-to-back competitive research fellowships, trained with distinguished scholars in the US and Australia, published 51 research articles, and has been appointed as an international consultant for muscular dystrophy therapies and coordinator of the Australian Society for Medical Research Grant Scheme.

Andrew Kindon - 2023 Clinical Research Training Fellowship

Determinants of abdominal aortic aneurysm risk in New Zealand ($110,104 over 36 months)

Andrew Kindon’s research will employ geospatial technologies to spatially identify areas demonstrating excess risk of AAA death in New Zealand, and the associated environmental risk factors. This includes socioeconomic deprivation, accessibility of health services and ethnicity – factors known to influence cardiovascular health outcomes but seldom considered in AAA research.

The findings of this research will inform resource allocation in AAA screening. International evidence suggests that communities at high risk of AAA death are also likely to be communities that endure inequitable access to health services (rural, Māori, deprived). In demonstrating these trends to policy makers, this research will help to ensure equitable access to AAA screening.

Kindon is a senior vascular scientist with 12 years’ experience in patient-facing vascular investigations. His goals in research are directly inspired by his clinical experience and he is extremely passionate about reducing preventable deaths from abdominal aortic aneurysms (AAAs).

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