12 May 2022

Business not as usual for heart health

From Our Changing World, 5:00 am on 12 May 2022

Cardiovascular diseases – disorders of the heart and blood vessels – are the leading cause of death globally. In Aotearoa, alongside cancer and respiratory diseases, they are one of the leading causes.  

Pūtahi Manawa co-director Dr. Anna Rolleston.

Pūtahi Manawa co-director Dr. Anna Rolleston Photo: RNZ / Claire Concannon

Follow Our Changing World on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, iHeartRADIO, Google Podcasts, RadioPublic or wherever you listen to your podcasts.

Cardiovascular diseases are also responsible for a large portion of the difference in life expectancy between Māori and non-Māori and Pacific and non-Pacific people.

Life expectancy is a term used for the average period that a person might expect to live. In Aotearoa there is a difference in life expectancy of about seven years between Māori and non-Māori, and about five years between Pacific and non-Pacific.

A Centre of Research Excellence (CoRE) is aiming to address these, and other, heart health inequities. Pūtahi Manawa / Healthy Hearts for Aotearoa is one of ten CoREs, whose funding began in July 2021, and will run until December 2028.

Pūtahi Manawa have set ambitious goals – the Centre aims to address heart health research and health-care gaps that affect Māori, Pacific peoples, women, and rural communities. To do this, it will need to be ‘business not as usual’ says co-director Dr. Anna Rolleston. That is, a new way of doing research - working with communities to research what is important to them, and within their world view.

Dr. Allamanda Faatoese of the University of Otago Christchurch Heart Institute.

Dr. Allamanda Faatoese of the University of Otago Christchurch Heart Institute. Photo: Supplied

While based in the University of Auckland, as a CoRE, Pūtahi Manawa has partnerships with other Universities and groups. Researchers can apply for funding and support if their plans fit with the Centre’s goals and values.

One of the partners in the CoRE is the University of Otago’s Christchurch Heart Institute. As part of her work in Christchurch Dr. Allamanda Faatoese is investigating the risk factors for cardiovascular disease among Māori and Pacific people. Allamanda has also been learning from these communities about the barriers to them participating in research.

In the University of Auckland, Dr. Anna Ponnampalam has been investigating the intergenerational heart health impacts that can result from pregnancy complications. Anna has focused on gestational diabetes – when the person develops diabetes during their pregnancy. While gestational diabetes generally resolves after pregnancy, it leaves both the pregnant person and their baby at greater risk for developing diabetes and heart disease later in life.

Dr. Anna Ponnampalam, reproductive biologist at the University of Auckland,

Dr. Anna Ponnampalam, reproductive biologist at the University of Auckland, Photo: Cornell Tukiri

The risk of developing gestational diabetes has distinct ethnic differences. Anna wants to identify early biological clues of a person being susceptible, so that we can move more towards prevention. She also wants to work with Māori midwives to develop a framework of screening and monitoring of gestational diabetes that better works for Māori.

And in seven years time?

Pūtahi Manawa co-director Dr. Anna Rolleston is realistic about how unlikely they are to have closed that life expectancy gap, but she is hopeful that they will have paved a new way; ‘We hope that we have role modelled a different way of doing health, not just in research but across the board, so that we can show others that there is a new way. Because if the way that we’ve done it, up until now, if that would have worked, then we wouldn’t have these gaps. So it doesn’t make any sense at all to continue to work in the way that we have.’

To learn more