Kōkiri Marae hosted an all-day hui on Tuesday 20 April to launch the SYMBIOTIC Programme, a five-year research programme that focuses on finding ways of reducing the burden of infectious diseases, long-term conditions, and poverty in Aotearoa New Zealand.
Professor Michael Baker (left) is Director of this new Health Research Council-funded programme which is based at the University of Otago, Wellington. He says the programme aims to make the 2020s the “decade of elimination”.
“The successful elimination of COVID-19 transmission in Aotearoa New Zealand has shown us the value of aiming high. With good science and good leadership, tough challenges that previously were thought to be impossible are now within our reach,” Professor Baker says.
Deputy Director Dr Amanda Kvalsvig also emphasised lessons learned from COVID-19.
“The programme was developed long before 2020, but COVID-19 is an outstanding example of a syndemic. Syndemics link infectious diseases, long-term conditions, and inequalities together to create a perfect storm. Trying to solve these issues one by one can never be fully effective,” Dr Kvalsvig says.
Instead, the team aims to break these destructive cycles by taking an integrated, whānau-centred approach. A senior Māori researcher in the group, Andrew Waa, says a key strength of the programme is the potential for innovative strengths-based solutions that combine syndemic approaches with Māori models of health.
“Grounding the research within Māori experiences will help identify solutions for how infectious diseases and long-term conditions can be better managed by and with Māori communities,” Mr Waa says.
Cheryl Davies, another senior Māori researcher in the group, and her colleagues are already beginning the conversations with community providers that will ensure that whānau ora approaches are enhanced, valued, and enabled throughout the programme. The values framework of the Tākiri Mai Te Ata Whānau Ora Collective – which includes both Kōkiri and Tu Kotahi – will provide a foundation for this work.
“The whakatauki in the framework is especially relevant to our relationship: ‘Me mahi tahi tātau, ka ora ai te iwi. Working together as one’”, Ms Davies says.