The Fono

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Empowering Pacific Youth to Lead Healthier Lives

The Fono is working on a project that is designed to empower Pacific communities towards better health and wellbeing, particularly with preventing prediabetes in young Pacific people. Community Research Coordinator Gavin Faeamani says the study is important in the fight against non-communicable diseases that plague our communities.

Gavin Faeamani has worked in research roles for over 10 years, and when approached to help out with the Pasifika Prediabetes Empowerment Programme through The Fono, he was all in.

Having moved to New Zealand from Tonga in 1991, he completed his final year at high school before going on to complete a Bachelor of Science at Auckland University, majoring in Maths and Statistics.

Not long after, Faeamani completed postgraduate studies in applied statistics at Otago University.

While the father of two works part time for The Fono in a research capacity, he is also completing his master’s in Public Health from the University of Auckland.

For 20 hours a week you’ll find Gavin at The Fono, where he is helping to coordinate its efforts within the community to undertake the research required.

“There are three stages; recruitment, providing training for the participants and then the implementation of the action plan in the communities,” he says.

And because The Fono already has connections with communities and churches out west, Gavin says that’s where they will recruit the 15 young people from.

The idea is to empower young Pacific youth by enhancing their knowledge and skills in public health capacity and capability. That ensures they can lead their communities in relevant programmes to help reduce the risk of prediabetes.

“When we provide youth with training, we hope they’ll be empowered to go back to their homes, communities and churches to contribute and make a change there,” says Gavin.

“The prevention of prediabetes is what we’re after at the end of the day, so we recruit and provide training for the youth and hopefully they’ll go back and implement an action plan for future changes.”

Lead investigator of the programme Dr Riz Firestone of Massey University says the prevalence rates of prediabetes among the young working age groups of Pacific people, aged between 18 to 45 years, is alarmingly high.

“If left untreated, the chances of developing potentially fatal long-term conditions are great,” says Dr Firestone.

“An effective intervention programme that adopts a culturally-centred approach, is led by the community, and encompasses the social-physical-cultural realities of the environment is necessary to tackle the growing epidemic of prediabetes.”

Gavin says obesity affects 67% of the Pacific island population in New Zealand, “it’s a risk factor for non-communicable disease; about 13.5% of young Pacific people are affected by prediabetes compared to 7% for NZ Europeans.”

“So you can see why this is critical, why it’s important.

“If we target Pacific youth now, then in the long term, we are hoping to shift our current trajectory by reducing our high rates of NCDs.”

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