It has been a full on and rewarding year. And we must reminisce, learn and celebrate. The future will bring challenges that we may not have answers for.
The linkages with the Australasian Society of HIV Medicine and Sexually transmitted infections culminating in a meeting in Thailand last January was important. The value of networks in areas of interest should not be underestimated. Even though HIV is no a threat as it was once, we have a high prevalence of liver disease and chlamydial infections that are causing significant morbidity and premature death in the Pacific Islands. Prevention strategies are affordable and are known – especially with the Hep B vaccinations at birth. We just have to have better implementation strategies and policies.
Participation in a meeting with those who lead the push for an improvement in Maori women’s health through the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists saw a few us learning how to weave pepe pods with flax. To say I weaved one is an overstatement. But we enjoyed the experience – stepping back or was it up, into another paradigm. Appropriate cultural technology that saves babies lives from cot death. Through a push from the Maori caucus and health professionals, the government approved funding for the initiative.
And then there were the three weeks of service work in Samoa. Most of the Pacific Islands need professional support and Samoa needs it more. With the growing expectations of the population for more and better quality of care, it is a challenge to the resources of the health department and on the few health specialists on the ground. The health ministries and populations in the various Pacific Islands will continue to need specialist visits to provide services they cannot provide and to support staff who often work in professional isolation. I was fortunate to be supported by NZAID via the Counties Manukau Health programme and am thankful to those have participated in the visits. My Auckland colleagues – Jackie Smalldridge assisted me with the surge of patients needing surgical procedures – Peter Stone and Kara Okesene assisting with workshops on ultrasound scanning and research.
Were those workshops helpful? The feedback was immediate and it proved right the adage – that when you provide men and women with a net, they will continue to feed themselves for a lifetime. Dr Salausa John Ah Ching has rolled out the scanning programme to include nurses and midwives – and those staff have revelled in their new-found skills and responsibilities. There are reports of babies saved and pregnancies managed better as a result of nurses in Samoa scanning. And then there was a hype of activity around research with the hashtag #getpublished – and then, as with most research, enthusiasm wanes when there is no experienced supervision to walk with the clinical researchers.
A trip to the UK and USA for three weeks followed. I wanted a trip back in time to savour the changes of where I had worked in the UK for three years in the 1990s. And I had to set foot on Scottish soil. It was a splendid trip meeting up with Francis Maru in London where he is doing his MRCOG training and supporting my research registrar at the conference of the RCOG. Meeting with family in the USA was also another highlight of the trip. The holiday with family was punctuated with writing research papers and producing the 3rd issue of the Pacific Journal of Reproductive Health. My sister’s living room was small, but writing juices flow when one is comfortable and uninterrupted.
All the while, the PSRH was teaming with TAHA to host a workshop and a joint conference in Auckland. We received fantastic assistance with hosting the PEMNeT workshop from MFAT, WHO and some Pacific countries. We had 35 nurses and doctors from many Islands of the Pacific keen to learn the delivery of a sustainable emergency skills programme that is embedded in professional learning activities. This was followed by a very successful conference that was opened by the Prime Minister of Samoa. We are grateful to so many organisations and individuals who made these two events successful, informative and enjoyable. Bronwyn Robinson from RANZCOG, Jacinta Faalii-Fidow from TAHA, Rufina Latu from WHO and Sheetal Naidu from PSRH deserve special mention.
2016 was memorable as it is the first year I was invited as a guest speaker by three professional societies. The Samoa Medical Association, the Papua New Guinea O&G Society and the Fiji O&G Society. It was a privilege to speak at these events and to renew friendships – and I understood my responsibilities as a son of the Pacific – I paid for my own attendance and expenses.
All that was made possible by the University of Auckland, who provided the sabbatical leave and time out to build a research network. The sabbatical enabled me to complete my PhD and I finally received the ticket on the 6th December. The trips were also made possible by funding from my private practice which has been emotionally rewarding and successful.
Finally, there is the preparations for our 12th conference in Vanuatu 13-18 July. I have seen the conference facilities and the many hotels are world class and on the many beaches. A stimulating programme is being worked on. We are expecting 400 health workers from around the Pacific. It is the place to be for your winter holiday in 2017.
I mentioned the new challenges in the coming years. The election of the new USA administration will affect funding in family planning initiatives and overall funding to the Pacific via international funding agencies. We have to innovate and to be creative with what we have, to make sure reproductive health services and outcomes in the Pacific Islands do not deteriorate as a result.
I better get back to getting the 4th issue of the Pacific Journal of Reproductive Health published by the 30th December.
Wishing all a safe and peaceful Christmas with loved ones.