Researcher receives Cranwell Medal for services during Covid-19
15 November 2023
Dr Natalie Netzler is a recipient of The Cranwell Medal for excellence in communicating research and information to Māori communities during Covid-19
In the face of a global health crisis, Dr Natalie Netzler (Ngāti Ruanui, Ngāti Hauā, Moto’otua), a senior lecturer, and virologist at the University’s Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences, has emerged as a pivotal figure, demonstrating the power of community and science in unity.
On behalf of New Zealand Assocation of Scientists (NZAS), Natalie has been awarded the Cranwell Medal for 2023, a prestigious accolade which recognises Natalie's stance to safeguard the wellbeing of Māori and Pacific populations, through clear and empathetic communication about the Covid-19 virus and vaccinations.
The medal is shared with collaborator and doctoral candidate Chris Puli'uvea.
Chris, in his final stages of his PhD, is a lecturer at Auckland University of Technology. He is passionate about improving the health of Māori and Pacific peoples by gaining a better understanding of how genes may influence immune responses.
The medal honours the pair's exceptional commitment to demystifying science for the public, particularly Māori and Pacific communities.
“To receive this recognition is such a nice surprise – both Chris and I are truly humbled,” Natalie says.
The work was rigorous, encompassing continuous consultations and the orchestration of over 60 online fono or events. Netzler’s and Puli’uvea’s approach, blending scientific acumen with cultural awareness, broke down complex information into relatable narratives, fostering trust and understanding in communities who are traditionally marginalised by the health system.
“To see the engagement and everyone’s willingness to learn was encouraging for us to keep going. Many times we had to extend Q and A time just to ensure we’d cover everything and give our Māori and Pacific whānau confidence in their decisions. It was a privileged position to be in.”
The pair's dedication extended beyond digital realms, with voluntary participation at vaccination clinics, exemplifying the potential of community-led health initiatives.
Natalie’s innovative methods in communication—using humour, visuals, and storytelling—proved essential in overcoming misinformation and ensuring that Māori and Pacific whānau could make informed health decisions.
“I want to emphasise the example Chris set as well, he is a tireless advocate for his community and provided immense support to me throughout this time.”
With the support of her family and especially her husband and young daughter, Netzler's commitment remains unwavering as she continues her research into antivirals, including an exciting new study into traditional Sāmoan medicines.
“I study viruses, I grow them, and then I find drugs to kill them,” she says.
“I screen different drugs to try and find potential antivirals and the idea is to have one drug for lots of bugs.”
“At the moment, I’ve got a really exciting collaboration starting, an all Pacific female-led study, looking at traditional Sāmoan medicines. The aim is to screen them for antiviral activities which so far is looking very promising.”
Te Rina Triponel | Kaitohutohu Pāpāho Māori