Our History – Beginnings to Discoveries

Our History - Beginnings to Discoveries

Through the vision of our forebears and the ongoing generosity of members and supporters, the Foundation has over the past five decades invested $2.5 million in an outstanding and extensive portfolio of research.

The movement started when local branch members of the British Medical Association decided to call interested parties together to discuss the importance of medical research in New Zealand and whether it was feasible to carry out worthwhile research in Hawke’s Bay.

At the time, it was noted that doctors in the region, who had undertaken specialist training overseas had found, on returning home, a partial vacuum because of the lack of local research facilities.


The group agreed to find a way to make these facilities available in Hawke’s Bay and called for a public meeting. Over 100 people attended the meeting, and the Hawke’s Bay Medical Research Foundation was established, just four months later on March 16 1961.

On launching the funding appeal one of the founding members, Dr Sam Turner, called for public support:

"To help keep the country’s best medical brains from going overseas to take up research, and that the investment in research would repay the country many times over, through promoting health and preventing disease, or stopping it in its early stages."


The objective of the Foundation, set 50 years ago remains the same today:

"To promote, initiate and support research in all health related fields including medical and health education, knowledge and understanding."

HBMRF Governance & Support

Kirsten Westwood - President
Sir Edwin Bate - Founding President

The Foundation is overseen by a governing body which over its history has comprised representatives from the Hospital Board (Hawke’s Bay District Health Board), the medical profession, local authorities and Members of Parliament. Membership options are open to all and include: Life Membership, initially set at £100 in 1961, today $200 (one-off payment) or Individual Membership $10 annual contribution.

There are now 41 life members, 34 members and 5 honorary members, representing individuals, families, the medical profession and community health stakeholders.

Over time, the Foundation has been generously supported, with some great benefactors – notably Sir James Wattie, whose early contribution ensured a solid financial base for a legacy of research grants.

Early Successes

Rewards came early with some very successful projects. One of note was a study of rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease in Wairoa. The district had one of the highest admission rates of rheumatic fever in New Zealand, at five times the national average. The Foundation funded a large series of studies headed by the “Father of Epidemiology in New Zealand” Dr Ian Prior, involving a register of more than 311 cases between 1956 and 1973, with major field work undertaken at Wairoa College in 1974. The studies confirmed a much higher prevalence of rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease in Māori, and the difficulty in mounting successful control programmes for early detection and treatment of streptococcal throat infections.

"To promote, initiative and support research in all health related fields including medical and health education, knowledge and understanding."

From small, local, useful and interesting studies through to participation in large national and international projects, Hawke’s Bay, through the Foundation, has been able to make a significant contribution to medical research, investing an average of $50,000 a year.

As the Foundation’s journey continues, its future remains in the hands of Hawke’s Bay, in existing and new members, their financial support and the generosity of benefactors, who hold the same vision and mission as the founding members fifty years ago.