Today sees the launch of the ‘Great NZ Science Project’, a TV and web campaign that is part of the NZ government’s new $60 million National Science Challenges initiative announced earlier this year.

Says Minister for Science & Innovation Steven Joyce:

“We are keen for the public and the science community to tell us what they think are New Zealand’s most important science challenges are over the next 5-10 years, so we can focus our investment on solving these challenges for the benefit of New Zealand”

The website features 8 potential challenges ranging from protecting our diversity to our changing climate. Each challenge has a short webisode of a scientist and child talking about science.

Being a microbiologist, I am particularly interested in the ‘fighting disease‘ challenge (see my conflict of interest statement below!). This challenge highlights the importance of cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and dementia. What many kiwi’s don’t realise though is our appalling rates of infectious diseases, which are bucking international trends and going up instead of down.

A recent study of hospital admissions over the last twenty years, carried out by Michael Baker and colleagues and published in the prestigious medical journal The Lancet, showed that while admissions caused by non-communicable diseases have increased by 7%, those due to infectious diseases have gone up by a staggering 50% [1]! We also have 4 times higher rates of Chlamydia infection then the UK and Australia, a bacterium which causes infertility. Infectious diseases physician Steve Ritchie was on Radio NZ National’s weekly science show Our Changing World recently where he talks about our appalling rates of infection with Staphylococcus aureus. You can hear Steve’s interview here. I’ve blogged about this ‘superbug’ before.

Anyway, that’s enough ranting from me. Go check out the website and make sure you make your have your say!

1. Baker MG, Telfar Barnard L, Kvalsvig A, Verrall A, Zhang J, Keall M, Wilson N, Wall T, Howden-Chapman P (2012). Increasing incidence of serious infectious diseases and inequalities in New Zealand: a national epidemiological study. The Lancet 379(9821): 1112-1119. DOI: 10.1016/S0140-6736(11)61780-7

Conflict of interest statement:
I am one of the 8 scientists featured on the website and do research into infectious diseases.