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FROM DRIVER TO LAB ASSISTANT
Burnet doesn’t just bring expertise into developing countries – it also employs locals and trains them to become part of effective health solutions.
Dukduk Kabiu is one example. This PNG local started with Burnet’s Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies (HMHB) program in 2014 as a driver for researchers, tackling difficult road conditions and remote locations to help researchers gather vital information as part of the Follow-up Mothers and Babies study.
Aged in his sixties, his warm personality was quickly put to use in local radio interviews and community liaison, where he played a key role in engaging with local communities about Burnet’s research.
“I am one of the oldest people in the project,” Mr Kabiu said. “When I was a driver my boss recognised my ability to speak openly in public and encouraged me to do engagement in the communities.
“My biggest challenge was the use of medical words and how to explain them accurately to the community. I eventually got familiar with them with the help of those in the study teams.” As his understanding of the project’s scope grew, he became more committed to its goals.
“As I got involved in the project, I was amazed to see the bigger picture,” he said. “Prior to this project, we only had superficial knowledge about the issues mothers and children face, through local discussion and stories. The many deep problems of these women and their children are not often brought out in public.”
Dukduk Kabiu moved from driver to project spokesperson to lab assistant, showing age is no barrier to acquiring new skills.
In late 2015 Mr Kabiu expanded his skills again, taking a job assisting Burnet’s Kokopo Laboratory Manager Ruth Fidelis and supporting other key HMHB researchers.
“It was a challenge. I am not a medical person but I wanted very much to learn new concepts and apply them to the overall picture in the study,” he said.
HMHB Principal Investigator Dr Michelle Scoullar said Mr Kabiu had had to learn about personal protection, how to log and process samples, and how to use a computer.
“He’s passionate about our work advancing the health of women and children. He’s an older respected Uncle in the team and the community,” Dr Scoullar said.
Image: Sally and husband Patrick chose to be part of the HMHB study.
A PARTICIPANT’S STORY
Over 700 pregnant women in PNG have put up their hands to be regularly tested as part of the first HMHB study. Sally shares why she joined them.
After losing her first pregnancy at five months, Sally volunteered to take part in HMHB.
“I was visited by HMHB Burnet four times and my husband Patrick and I also attended a counselling session done by Burnet staff after our second pregnancy ended in miscarriage at four months,” she said.
“We knew the HMHB research was because of the alarming figures of mothers dying during pregnancy and during childbirth, and we wanted to help. The HMHB sticker on my book was a symbol of hope for me and my husband.”
Sally said she had been intrigued to see HMHB’s procedures in the field and hospital, and their more modern health equipment which helped make medical procedures simple and quick, and sometimes more comfortable for participants.
And she was inspired by the help she was given to carry a baby to term.
“We were counselled and referred to the general hospital where obstetric doctors were able to help us,” she said.
“I am now successfully into my eighth month of pregnancy.
“I want my story to go out to others, to tell them that being part of the HMHB Burnet study is a good intervention to improve the lives of mothers and babies.”
Image: Research officer Rose Suruka visits villages and homes to take health measurements.
OUT IN THE FIELD
HMHB relies on dedicated field research officers who travel to homes and villages to collect data from women in the months before and after a birth. Research officer Rose Suruka talks about her work.
“The most exciting thing that I enjoy about the field work is interviewing women, doing questionnaires each day and listening to how mothers respond,” she said.
“I like meeting new people and coming across new small places or villages in East New Britain.”
Some of the challenges involved communicating with the women, and helping them understand the questions being asked, and why.
“My greatest motivation in doing this work is that as well as being a health worker I am a mother of three children, and during my own time of pregnancy and delivery I went through some tough times,” she said.
“That really motivates me in doing this work. I want to help my country’s women and babies access good, proper and appropriate health services.”