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Chief Executive Peter Lennox: 2023 a year in review

18 December 2023

Peter Lennox Chief Executive
Peter Lennox Chief Executive

Everything we do at ESR is driven by our mission to detect, connect and protect – so we can deliver cutting-edge science that benefits all Aotearoa New Zealand, from our bustling urban centres to most isolated rural environments. I’m delighted to reflect on the difference our science has made for New Zealand over the past year, and to share some highlights with you. 

We saw our mission in action throughout 2023, with the ongoing detection and measuring of COVID-19 in our communities. As self-reporting has decreased, ESR’s wastewater testing, alongside our genomics surveillance, has proved vital for establishing levels of the virus, to support health providers and the public with their decision making. 

To further support decision making, this year our public health surveillance information shifted to live in one place as part of a new look Ngā Kete Intelligence Hub. Having all our public health intelligence in a centralised hub is a huge step forward for making this information accessible. Stay tuned for more updates to our website in the new year, as we continue to improve how we present our research and services, to have an even greater impact for our communities. 

On the influenza front, 2023 marked five years since the WellKiwis programme launched. The programme is playing a key role in helping ESR experts better understand immunity and how more effective vaccines could be developed for influenza and other viruses. 

ESR continues to lead the way when it comes to embracing new technologies. ESR’s experts turned their attention to how artificial intelligence could further enhance research, while ensuring AI’s power is harnessed in an ethical, productive way. To help guide use of AI, we’re proud to have signed-up to the Algorithm Charter for Aotearoa New Zealand, which commits to ensuring New Zealanders have confidence in how government agencies use data and algorithms. 

We were also excited to host the ESR Symposium on Precision Health, bringing together people from a range of sectors to help understand the opportunities for New Zealand in this rapidly advancing field of data-informed healthcare. 

We’re extremely proud of the work undertaken with our co-host, the University of Otago, and key Māori partners, to grow and embed Te Niwha, a holistic approach to reduce inequities in infectious diseases and health responses. With a commitment to the principles of Vision Mātauranga,Te Niwha provides a comprehensive approach to infectious disease research and response in Aotearoa New Zealand, focusing on partnership and collaboration with Māori and our most vulnerable communities. 

ESR has championed increased CRI collaboration through pan-Crown research institution initiatives, such as improving Māori data sovereignty practices and developing a Pacific environmental exposure assessment to investigate and assess potential climate change risks. 

As an example of ESR collaboration, we’re leading a New Zealand Government Jobs for Nature project gathering freshwater data to model potential health risks from swimming. Nine councils are involved in collecting samples from 40 water bodies to create a new model that will support New Zealand’s freshwater recreational guidelines. ESR scientists also worked alongside GNS and Environment Canterbury on an online tool for microbial risk assessment of land use on drinking water supplies. The tool is designed to give guidance to councils and others seeking to protect the safety of their drinking water sources. 

We continue to push the boundaries in science excellence, including building on the commercial successes of ESR’s ground-breaking and award-winning products Lumi™ and STRmix™. Lumi is now being used as a frontline policing tool by the New Zealand Police for drug detection. Lumi’s success in being awarded the Excellence in Forensic Science Award at the World Police Summit in 2023, is testament to the innovation of ESR’s scientists working in collaboration with the New Zealand Police. 

This really is just a snapshot of the important science undertaken by ESR this year. You can discover these and other important achievements in ESR's 2023 Annual Report. These achievements have only been made possible through the dedicated work of our incredible colleagues and partners. I am so proud of the dedication, spirit and professionalism of all our people, who continue to deliver outstanding contributions to the health and wellbeing of our communities. The ESR team looks forward to our continued collaborations throughout 2024.