Professor Michael Baker

A new centre hosted by the University of Otago will boost the reach and impact of public health research, says its inaugural Director Professor Michael Baker.

The Public Health Communication Centre (PHCC), launched in February, will provide high-quality analysis and commentary from public health researchers for the public, the media and decision-makers.

Professor Baker says Aotearoa New Zealand has world-leading public health research. “The PHCC’s role will be to improve the communication of these research findings to support good policy responses and raise public awareness about opportunities for health gain.”

The Centre’s small team is based in the Department of Public Health at the University of Otago in Wellington. Award-winning science communicator Professor Baker leads the Centre with co-directors Professor Nick Wilson and Professor Simon Hales. Research affiliates Dr Tim Chambers and Marnie Prickett contribute to the work of the Centre with science lead Dr John Kerr and communication lead Adele Broadbent as the key staff.

The PHCC is independently funded by an endowment from the Gama Foundation which is managed by the University of Otago Foundation Trust. Director of the Development and Alumni Relations Office Shelagh Murray says the generous endowment provides a huge opportunity to make a real difference in public health.

The Centre and its flagship publication – The Public Health Expert Briefing – will highlight new local public health research, commentary, and analysis, as well as explain international research and issues for a local context. It is a rebranded form of the long-running Public Health Expert Blog and continues its legacy of providing timely and impactful summaries of new research and public health issues.

“This research can provide opportunities for improved responses to emerging threats such as infectious disease outbreaks, better prevention of major existing health problems, such as heart disease, cancer and poor mental health, and raise awareness and action to address the core determinants of public health,” says Professor Baker.

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the value of having good communication from public health experts to policy makers and the community in Aotearoa New Zealand.

“Researchers recognise the critical importance of effective communication to support the translation of their work into effective action.

“The PHCC aims to build on widely shared values of fairness, pride in our natural environment, and a desire to leave our society better than when we found it,” says Professor Baker. “These values are central to improving public health, which relies on a foundation of equity, sustainability and a long-term perspective.”

Dean and Head of Campus at the University of Otago, Wellington, Professor William Levack welcomed the new centre at the launch on 9 February in the capital.

Investigative journalist Paula Penfold, who was behind the Stuff Circuit disinformation documentary, Fire and Fury, also spoke at the event.

The launch featured a series of video interviews with leading public health communicators and researchers talking about the importance of public health communications, including Professor Papaarangi Reid, Sir Collin Tukuitonga, and Sir Ashley Bloomfield.

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