Tāmaki Innovation Campus


Julienne Faletau
PhD student Julienne Faletau

PhD candidate Julienne Faletau is no stranger to the effect of Type 2 diabetes, with the disease affecting close family.

Inspired by her two young nieces, and the realisation of ensuring a new generation in her family grows up to be healthy and thriving, Julienne describes how the future of her family’s health inspires her work.

“Pre-diabetes is rarely discussed within Pacific communities and is not clearly understood.  I hope to create a visual model to help clinicians describe what ‘pre-diabetes’ and ‘at-risk’ of developing type 2 diabetes is to Tongan people with pre-diabetes, conveying the importance of making lifestyle changes now, despite it going against certain Tongan traditional health and food related knowledge.”

“Secondly, I hope the mHealth tool we will use to share key health messages, enables behaviour change associated with poor health choices, so Tongan people with pre-diabetes can change their trajectory.”

Julienne explains her rationale: “Since completing my Bachelor of Health Sciences (Honours) and Master of Public Health (Honours) degrees, I have been interested in researching the health of Pacific peoples in New Zealand, particularly Tongan people in New Zealand and in the region (Tonga).”

“A large proportion of Pacific people in New Zealand have pre-diabetes and it’s rising at an alarming pace. Pre-diabetes and mHealth is a fairly new area for me to research. Coupled together, these areas of interest can enable prevention, rather than cure. mHealth could be an avenue to raise awareness, educate Tongan people about pre-diabetes, risk factors and reach those who do not regularly see their health provider. It’s about providing support to this population to maintain stable blood glucose via health lifestyle, including diet and exercise using mHealth as a vehicle, complementing and reinforcing education through existing services”, she says.

Combining a love for her family, and a keen interest in Pacific Health issues, particularly non-communicable diseases and health service delivery in New Zealand and the Pacific, this is a natural step for Julienne.

But it doesn’t just stop at pre-diabetes and mHealth. She is also interested in Pacific adolescents and children’s health in relation to tobacco control; adult and elderly eye health issues (specifically cataracts) in the Pacific; the social determinants of health, public health, qualitative and mixed-methods research designs all whilst underpinned by Pacific research methodologies.

She began her academic career in 2007 with a Certificate in Health Science at the University of Auckland, continuing through to a Master of Public Health (Honours) as a Fred Hollows Foundation Scholarship recipient looking at the Impact of Cataract on Poverty in Tonga.

Working towards her PhD, she notes highlights have been completing the qualitative phase of her research, “talking to participants from my community about pre-diabetes, diabetes and mHealth (specifically SMS texting). Hearing their voices and understanding their concerns has been empowering for me as a researcher because it is their voices that will direct the future steps of this research.”

Secondly, forming a good collaborative relationship with staff at South Seas Healthcare has been integral in the progression and impact of this research. She is excited at how the findings could potentially help the clinic with diabetes care in the community.

Julienne also finds attending short mixed-methods and qualitative courses helpful with her research design and developing her thinking during her PhD along with going to conferences particularly where others are doing similar research. And, is justifiably proud of winning the SOPH Poster Showcase – Best Postgraduate poster 2019.

“Challenges have always been trying to balance family responsibilities and PhD studies. However, I’m grateful I have expert academic supervisors and advisors to guide and give constructive feedback. In addition, access to a designated desk at the Pacific Health section has been immensely beneficial, especially sitting with other PhD students in the section. Also being part of a PhD writing group for the last year has kept me accountable and motivated.”

“My primary academic supervisor is Associate Professor Judith McCool and co-secondary academic supervisors are Associate Professor Vili Nosa and Dr Rosie Dobson. I also have an amazing advisor from South Seas Healthcare Dr Maryann Heather and logistical assistance from health coach Mr Malaefono Seve, both of whom contributed greatly in the first phase of this research. I’m also fortunate that this research has been funded by the Health Research Council of New Zealand.”

“I’m very glad to know that we, PhD students, are guaranteed a desk space at the new campus. It’s important to me because I am able to continue my research and writing as I anticipate submitting my thesis in May 2020. In the future, I hope to teach Pacific Health and bring to the forefront Pacific research methodologies in the Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences and continue to carry out research with Pacific peoples to improve their health outcomes in New Zealand and in the Pacific regions.”