Achieving equitable heart health outcomes for Pacific people
1 September 2023
Pasifika Medical Association funds research by Niuean PhD student to explore heart health care for Pacific peoples
Jess Lagaluga Hutchings (Avatele) hails from the small and abundant island of Niue, a population of over 1,000 people, with many of its descendants living in Aotearoa New Zealand – like Jess.
“I come from a big family, I’m very proud of my siblings who have their own families, and I have a brother who has just graduated from Te Herenga Waka, Victoria University of Wellington which makes me very excited,” she says.
“I enjoy walks with my dogs and I’m learning to take regular breaks when I can.”
She’s also a recipient of the PMA Knowledge Hub Doctoral Scholarship in recognition of research excellence that aims to provide solutions for Pacific health issues. The scholarship includes $35,000 per annum, plus tuition fees paid.
The scholarship was awarded on behalf of New Zealand’s Pasifika Medical Association (PMA), an organisation that is active in promoting and supporting Pacific health, and have partnered with Waipapa Taumata Rau, University of Auckland, to grow Pacific research.
Jess’ PhD journey is exploring achieving equitable heart health outcomes for Pacific people living in Aotearoa, specifically looking at how pharmacists contribute to their heart health care journey.
“Knowing how Pacific people engage with their pharmacists beyond a transactional medicine supply role is something that hasn't really been looked into,” she says.
“For example, I conducted a literature review looking at the tailoring of pharmacist-led services for different minority populations worldwide, and there's just very limited evidence around pharmacy service experiences.
“I'm a pharmacist by background, but the heart health aspect of my research is because a lot of people in my family have heart disease, which I find is also a common story for many Pacific families.
"Unfortunately, there are significant disparities between Pacific and non-Māori, and non-Pacific people.”
Jess says the first stage of research has been split into phases with focus groups and semi-structured interviews being used to explore the views and experiences of Pacific people, pharmacists and GPs.
“GPs are also such an important part of New Zealand's primary healthcare system, and the relationship between community pharmacists and GPs is an important relationship to optimise the health outcomes of the person receiving health care.”
“I have been finding that there is a lot of confusion around New Zealand’s healthcare system, particularly that there is an expectation from health professionals that people just know how this system works.”
I'm a pharmacist by background, but the heart health aspect of my research is because a lot of people in my family have heart disease, which I find is also a common story for many Pacific families.
Jess notes that many Pacific people will go to a pharmacist they trust and feel comfortable with, even if it means spending money to fill their prescription.
“A pharmacy where staff take the time to build whakawhānaungatanga with the individual and sometimes their families, generally ends up more favoured,” she says.
“But that raises the complex issue of affordability. Not everyone can choose a positive pharmacy relationship over cost, so it’s important to ensure all pharmacies equip people with the information they need.”
For Jess, it’s important to identify whether pharmacists and GPs are informing Pacific peoples who are in urgent need of heart health care of the appropriate options to optimise their health.
Te Rina Triponel | Media adviser Māori, Pacific