Sydney resident, Sharyn Corboy, recently returned from The Solomon Islands, after spending 12 months working as a Midwifery Mentor on the Australian Government funded - Australian Volunteer for International Development (AVID) program. This is her story.
In November 2014 I travelled to the Solomon Islands to work for 12 months as a volunteer Midwifery Mentor with the Australian Government funded Australian Volunteers for International Development (AVID) program. Reflecting on this experience, I know that if I was younger, volunteering like this would have directed my nursing and midwifery career into the development sector.
With a population of just over half a million spread over 900 islands in the Pacific Ocean, the Solomon Islands has limited access to adequate healthcare. There is currently around one doctor for every 26,000 people. The maternal mortality rate is 130 per 100,000 births (in Australia it is six). The neonatal mortality rate is 13 per 1000 live births (compared to two in Australia).
As a Registered Nurse and Midwife, and having worked as a Clinical Midwifery Educator for many years, I knew my skills could be well utilised volunteering at the National Referral Hospital in the Solomon Islands capital, Honiara (NRH). The NRH is where people are referred if they can't be treated at their local outpost or hospital, or need a higher level of care.
Malaria and tuberculosis are big health issues in the Solomon Islands, as are diabetes, cancers and anaemia. A large number of women are anaemic from malaria, hookworm or from dietary influences, which can impact on their and their babies' health during and after pregnancy.
I worked together with NRH staff – doctors, midwives, nurses, student nurses and student midwives – to offer safe and quality care through the antenatal, labour and postnatal stages.
My day-to-day role at NRH was varied. I found myself working in the labour ward alongside staff as we assessed and supported women in labour; birthing babies or supporting other staff as they did it; talking with breastfeeding mothers; and helping to put together clinical procedures to guide staff on how to provide the best and safest care for mothers and babies.
I was fortunate to work closely with the Obstetrics and Gynaecology Nurse Educator, Anita Maepioh. She helped my understanding of what it is like to live and work in the Solomon Islands, the importance of family and 'wontok', and the role of culture.
Our work together to implement a monthly Perinatal Death audit has been of great significance to me, both personally and professionally. Staff are now talking about the main areas that they can focus on – monitoring, communication and documentation – and are changing practices to improve care. These changes don't require large budgets or resources and can help to save lives.
Working positively with the hospital staff to bring about changes in practices, and seeing staff working towards improving the health of their people, was rewarding and helped me face challenges encountered during my time in the Solomon Islands. The support I received from my husband in Australia, the AVID in-country office, NRH colleagues and new and old friends got me through some difficult times and has given me new confidence in what I do and who I am.
I learned to be flexible and patient and to slow down - change takes time in the Solomons. But more than that, I was privileged to work with skilful, caring people who are trying to do the best for the people of their country.
This volunteering assignment is part of the Australian Volunteer for International Development (AVID) program, an Australian Government initiative.
How to apply
More information, including applicant eligibility criteria can be found on the Australian Volunteers page.
Health security corps
Australia has a great depth of public health expertise to offer governments in our region and to feed into global mechanisms such as the WHO’s Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network. There is considerable scope to capitalise more fully on this pool of expertise and to draw together several existing deployment pools and mechanisms.
As an early measure under the Health Security Initiative for the Indo-Pacific Region, the government has therefore announced the establishment of a health security corps to help strengthen regional preparedness to respond to emerging health threats. The health security corps will support professional placements in non-clinical roles in government agencies, NGOs, international organisations, research bodies and regional institutions.
The Centre for Health Security has already begun to support the placement of public health experts in the region in response to requests from partner governments and international organisations. Initial deployments are being made under the Australian Volunteers for International Development (AVID) program. Later placements will draw on a range of deployment mechanisms, including AVID.
All health security corps placements will be developed in consultation with prospective host institutions based on capacity and need. Placements will be assessed with reference to their potential contribution to the prevention and containment of infectious disease threats. Placements might involve, for example, technical laboratory work including specimen testing, field epidemiology work, or public communication and community education.
Importantly, the heath security corps will also build people-to-people and institutional links that will facilitate ongoing sharing of experience and understanding of health security across the region.