Kiwi comes home to job as medical officer of health

New Southern District Health Board medical officer of health John Eastwood. PHOTO: LINDA ROBERTSON
New Southern District Health Board medical officer of health John Eastwood. PHOTO: LINDA ROBERTSON
The irony of having left pandemic-stricken Sydney to work for the Southern District Health Board, just as two new cases of Covid-19 arrive in the region on board a container ship, has not escaped newly appointed medical officer of health Prof John Eastwood.

"Some people think it [Covid-19] is gone, but it’s not," he said.

"It’s only as good as the last time it slipped into the country, so border security is really important and I have been very impressed with the way we are managing things in Queenstown."

Although much of his professional career has been spent in Sydney, Wellington-born and Auckland-trained Prof Eastwood lived in Dunedin from 1987-90 and was deputy director of the Plunket Society.

"I’m a Kiwi. I wanted to come and want to retire here eventually," Prof Eastwood (65) said.

"We loved Dunedin and really enjoyed living here."

A paediatrician by training, Prof Eastwood was most recently a public health physician with the Sydney Local Health District.

Before Covid-19, his role involved working on child and family health programmes and promoting integrated care, but once the pandemic arrived he was redeployed to head a team doing real-time quality assurance checking of contact tracing.

"I really sing the praises of the district I have just left," Prof Eastwood said.

"They are managing the Sydney airport, they are managing all the mandatory quarantine facilities, and had to put up a 1000-bed hospital, basically in hotels, to manage all the traffic coming into the city, and they were called upon by the premier to start mass vaccinations."

Prof Eastwood is also an adviser to the World Health Organisation on child and adolescent health and wellbeing.

Although Covid-19 would necessarily be a focus for all public health physicians, an organisation like the SDHB also needed to work on improving its core health services.

"I think they [the SDHB] had done some background reading on me, because when they described the job to me it fitted like a glove," he said.

"I have spent much of my career addressing social justice issues and working with rural and remote communities and working with whanau to create supportive environments for health and wellbeing.

"While public health is often seen as protecting people from smallpox or the plague or pandemics or lead in the water supply, there is a lot more to public health than that."

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