27 October 2020
Paula Takiwa is team leader – health advice for Arthritis New Zealand, and is on the committee of PIFNAG (Pacific Islands Food and Nutrition Action Group).
My public health career really took off when I started working for Diabetes Auckland. I was educating people about Type 2 Diabetes self-management and diabetes prevention. I found that everything I’d learnt up to that point, through study and work, could be applied. Earlier, as a new graduate in Human Nutrition, I lacked confidence, but once I started working, and with the support of mentors, I loved being able to share my knowledge and help people.
I soon realised that through education we’re only reaching a few people, we can only do so much. I joined PIFNAG (Pacific Islands Food and Nutrition Action Group), with Mafi Funaki Tahifote and Sione Finau back in 1998. PIFNAG members all work in different areas of health but together we can get our voice out there and take a strategic view for all Pacific people.
I’m conscious that as a Fijian Pacific person, I have to keep myself healthy, and maintain a positive image. Relationships are important too; I always try to sustain relationships, and make sure that people know what’s happening with our programmes.
I’m now working with Arthritis New Zealand. Maori and Pacific people are more likely to suffer from gout arthritis, the second most common form of arthritis in New Zealand. For Pacific people, there’s a lot of misinformation about the causes of gout, for example, eating seafood gives you gout, whereas there are a lot of other causes, such as family history and being overweight.
I keep motivated by little successes; if you can encourage one change in someone, that’s one person who won’t be going through the health system. Giving people hope is the biggest thing. Especially working with young people, advisors need to work with the whole family, and consider social issues, the affordability of food and food environments. Interventions have to be bigger and wider.
To be successful in public health you have to find the core of what you love and enjoy, and I love nutrition and food! I also enjoy providing a window on the Pacific worldview and how to work with Pacific people. My key message is to give people hope and show that you care; if that’s your basic value you’ll be great at your job.
I recently became a registered nutritionist. I had to remind myself, as I get older, that I’ve done a lot and deserve to get my registration. I’m thinking of doing a Masters in Public Health next year. I’d like to be in public health management, being there with the decision-makers; it’s where I’m needed and can make the most difference for Pacific people.