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Strength in Diversity

From a young age growing up in the Tongan capital of Nuku’alofa, Dr Aisake Takau could see that a career in the medical profession offered opportunities far greater than many of his peers aspired to.

But seeing it through is far easier said than done.

“If you’re living in the islands, there’s no way you can afford the fees to go to medical school,” he says.

“So you face big competition to get one of the scholarships on offer granted by the government support via donor nations.”

The only two medical schools in the islands are at the University of the South Pacific (USP) in Fiji and School of Medicine and Health Sciences in Papua New Guinea.

Dr Takau attended USP and graduated in 1983 before returning to Tonga where he was based at the main hospital. He also worked in other neighbouring Pacific nations and learnt much from his experience.

“There are limited resources in the Pacific, so you learn to improvise and make the most of what you have,” he says.

The 1980s was also the time when Non Communicable Diseases (NCDs) such as diabetes became the prime focus in the region.

“A lot of the contagious diseases which affect tropical countries like hepatitis and influenza were being addressed by global programmes administered by the World Health Organisation. But it was becoming increasingly apparent that NCDs needed our attention.”

After 14 years serving in the region, Dr Takau and his family moved to Auckland. He was still practising in the islands and, due to the backlash of the military coups in Fiji, he needed to gain more qualifications to enable him to practise in New Zealand.

“After the Rabuka coups, Fiji was blacklisted and some of our qualifications weren’t recognised,” he says.

After four years of exams, he graduated with the qualifications needed and began practising in 2006 (the year Fiji suffered another coup) at Rotorua Hospital.

A stint at Middlemore Hospital followed before he began working at a number of medical centres, including The Fono in Henderson when it was West Fono and a single clinic.

Now based at The Fono South in Manurewa and The Fono West Central in Blockhouse Bay, Dr Takau enjoys the variety of cultures among the patients at the clinics.

“Like much of South Auckland, Manurewa is a real melting pot for Pacific peoples and others and I’m always interested in the journeys getting here,” he says.

“For us from Tonga, the biggest wave came in the late 1970s, for those from Samoa it was the 1950s and 60s and for the Cook Islands and Niue it was before then. And now there are more from other cultures from across the globe, like China and India. Our diversity is our strength.”

Dr Takau works Mondays and Thursdays at Blockhouse Bay and Tuesday, Wednesday and Fridays at Manurewa.

Find out more

Dr Aisake Takau 

The Fono South

The Fono’s medical services