This week marks a significant milestone in Tonga’s healthcare landscape as the Pacific Mental Health Survey team launch a national Mental Health Survey.
A groundbreaking collaboration between researchers within Waipapa Taumata Rau University of Auckland, Te Poutoko Ora a Kiwa I Centre for Pacific and Global Health, and Tonga Ministry of Health, funded through the New Zealand Ministry of Health Polynesian Health Corridors, will provide vital population level information on the status of mental health and mental health services in Tonga.
The research team in Tonga is being led by Dr Siale ‘Akau’ola, Tonga’s former Health CEO, and Mr Penisimani Moli as project coordinator. The local Tongan and New Zealand teams will collaborate to gather crucial data that will form the foundation for informed decisions regarding mental health resourcing and new initiatives to support mental health.
Dr ‘Akau’ola said this was a highly significant research responding to community mental health needs.
“This study is of paramount importance to Tonga. It allows us to confirm the significant mental health burden of mental health disorders, ensuring [our people] receive the priority they deserve in future health development plans.
“Without this solid evidence, our efforts to improve mental health services would be hindered, and it is critical to better respond to community health needs.”
The Pacific Mental Health Survey Series commenced in Samoa and now looks to roll out in Tonga from October 2023, followed by Tuvalu and Tokelau. The overall research project is being co-led by Sir Collin Tukuitonga, who is Associate Dean Pacific and Associate Professor of Public Health in the Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences, with Associate Professor Judith McCool, Head of the School of Population Health, and Dr Roannie Ng Shiu. Dantzel Tiakia is the New Zealand project manager.
Tongan-born Dr Etuini Ma’u (psychiatrist) and Associate Professor Sione Vaka (mental health expert), both based in New Zealand, have joined the team as cultural and clinical advisors.
Dantzel Tiakia shares the primary aims of the project, which aims to:
“Shed light on the burden of mental disorders, mental health service use patterns, and barriers to accessing treatment. We are grateful to partner with local teams like Dr Siale and Peni Moli, who are also incredibly committed and advocates of mental health and wellbeing among Tongan people.”
Dr ‘Akau’ola further emphasized the importance of a future health plan that prioritizes mental health.
“A good future health strategic plan that prioritizes Mental Health will attract both Government and Development Funds towards strengthening mental health services for Tonga.”
Research data will be stored in New Zealand and the project countries so that in-country partners can access and analyze the data.
“To uphold Pacific data sovereignty, there will be an emphasis on data sharing that allows Pacific countries to derive value, such as health gains, from their own data.”