National | Covid-19

Researchers meet to unlock secrets of infectious diseases prevention

Kia Niwha Leaders Fellowship 2024 with guest speakers, Sir Ashley Bloomfield and Ngāmiro health provider, Glenda Raumati (captured)

“Kia niwha te ngākau i ngā mahi atawhai a te iwi” - Be steadfast, be resolute in the care and protection of the people.

That is the ultimate goal for health and academia researchers in the Kia Niwha Leaders Fellowship 2024. The fellowship sponsors researchers in the pursuit of preventing infectious diseases entering Aotearoa.

Today, these emerging researchers gathered at Te Iti o Hauaa marae, Waikato to discuss leadership development in their respective areas in the sector.

One of the fellows is 29-year-old cryo-electron microscopist and virologist, Dr Alice-Roza Eruera (Ngāpuhi-nui-tonu, Ngāti Ruanui), who creates 3D models and artworks of viruses.

Eruera said today’s wānanga was an opportunity to reaffirm leadership skills she already knew.

“All the things I heard and saw from today’s speakers about the characteristics of what makes a great leader are things I’ve heard about my tūpuna,

“So, the things they’ve said are all Māori values that reinforce things we already know but it’s nice to hear it from respected experts in a different way.”

From a young age, being raised in the lush surroundings of the far north, it was always Eruera’s dream to be a microbiologist.

“My koro had died from a preventable disease. It changes your life forever when you lose that special person,

“It’s silly when you lose a loved one from something as simple as a preventable disease. So, my koro is definitely the driving force for everything I do in my mahi.”

Eruera is the youngest fellow to be sponsored for the work she’s developing to understand viruses and how they transfer to the next host.

“I build 3D models of viruses and their proteins on a computer, and then learn how they infect its host and how they replicate or evolve. So I learn the whakapapa of viruses and the future of that virus.

“It’s important to have Māori in these spaces. We need more Māori in higher-learning areas. I know it’s hard but we have to start somewhere, so we can take control of the issues important to us when it comes to the well-being of our people.” she said.

Former top health official and decorated health expert Sir Ashley Bloomfield met the fellows to share his leadership experience during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Just an opportunity to engage with these young leaders who are on this fellowship. Listen to them and find out what their leadership challenges are, and how the experiences that I’ve had could help them,” he said.

Bloomfield said he was pleased to attend today’s discussions, especially on the topic of working to prevent the spread of viruses as Aotearoa approached the winter season.

“The things we did during the pandemic, you know the behaviours of staying home if you’re sick, wearing a mask in public, we’re beginning to forget quite quickly,

“But really, they’re the things that will help continue to protect people, particularly our kaumātua, our young tamariki. So, we need to remind ourselves what worked during that time that helped us look after each other.”

When the former Health Ministry head was asked about concerns there would be another viral outbreak in New Zealand, he urged citizens in Aotearoa to keep up to date with immunity and/or flu injections.

“One of the things we are worried about is the potential for a measles outbreak. There’s an increased potential for a measles outbreak happening, globally. This means it just takes one person to come to New Zealand with measles to make it happen,

“Make sure you’re up to date with all your vaccinations. If you’re sick, stay home.”