Professor Caroline Homer AO in Papua New Guinea
I am honoured to be the first recipient of the Alastair Lucas Prize. I am also immensely grateful for the opportunity this creates for us to do such important work saving the lives of mothers and babies in Papua New Guinea (PNG) without delay.
It can be difficult to attract the funding necessary to do research that is about improving quality care at the bedside. Working in partnership with PNG colleagues, gathering data and using it to advise others about improving the way care is delivered is challenging - it takes time to do, and it’s often messy, not a neat and tidy study.
Added to that, as I’m new at Burnet, it could take a year or two for me to go through the process of making applications to funding bodies and achieve the funding to get started on this work.
Quite simply, this is a delay we can’t afford.
There is no time to waste. Women and their babies are dying in a country just hours north of Australia. To do nothing now except write grant applications will mean lives will be lost.
And it is here, I think, that the Alastair Lucas Prize has been of the greatest benefit, for it has allowed me to walk through the door and get to work immediately.
My focus at Burnet is the next phase of the Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies (HMHB) project in PNG, in which we look at the quality of care given to women in pregnancy, during labour and birth, and to their babies.
There is a major issue in PNG around the quality of care provided to women. There are often not enough midwives to provide the care and many facilities lack basic amenities which we all take for granted, for example, limited to no access to medicines, no sheets on the beds.
Women often choose not to go to health facilities for care, especially if they think the care they will get is not of high quality. That is the same of all people, I think. If you don’t think you’re going to get quality of care, why would you go?
The first part of this phase of the project is gathering information with our colleagues at the PNG Institute for Medical Research, the University of PNG, the provincial health authority and other partners.
We are currently exploring what ‘quality of care’ actually means to various stakeholders. What does it mean to hospitals? What does it mean to mothers and health staff? Then we can work out what to do next – what to work on to improve quality care that all women want to access.
We have to understand what all parties involved need before we approach change. This is not about us coming in and fixing a problem, this is about us working out what the problem is, what the people in PNG need, and then working closely with doctors, midwives and communities to build capacity.
This is about us helping the people of PNG save the lives of their own.
We can’t afford to waste time when it comes to lives. And with the Alastair Lucas Prize, we haven’t had to pause for a moment.
Lives will be saved because of this prize, not just through our current work with HMHB, but through the work of other recipients in the future.
I know you will see the enormous benefits of investing in a prize such as this, helping secure Burnet’s work to save lives now and far into the future.