Tragic passing of our Leader

On Sunday 5 June, 2016 Emeritus Professor Rick Speare, our Group Leader and dear friend, was tragically killed in a car accident.

Rick was a man of great humanity, wisdom and wit. Across his extensive professional and personal endeavors, his commitment was to make the world a better place. People across the globe will attest to his immense kindness, genuine humility and great intellect. Rick has been influential in so many of our lives.

One of Rick’s great passions was to understand and improve the health of people, and animals, in the Pacific. For almost a decade, Rick has worked to establish and support the Atoifi Health Research Group in Solomon Islands. We will be forever grateful for the vision, leadership and encouragement Rick has shown each of us.

To donate to the Rick Speare Memorial Fund, that will continue the research capacity strengthening work in Solomon Islands, please visit:

Infection Control in action

By Vanessa Sparke, Lecturer and PhD Candidate, James Cook University

The opportunity to become involved with Atoifi Adventist Hospital and the research group came indirectly through the WHO Collaborating Centre for Nursing & Midwifery Education & Research Capacity Building Centre (WHOCC) at James Cook University (JCU). The Centre’s Director, Associate Professor Dr Caryn West was in a conversation with Dr David MacLaren about the need to fill a gap which had been self-identified by AAH as needing to strengthen and improve infection control (IC) processes. Caryn’s response to David was, “Have I got the person for you!”

As a nurse, infection prevention and control has become a bit of a passion for me. I ‘cut my teeth’ (so to speak) as an Infection Control Nurse at a large hospital in Melbourne, while studying a Masters of Tropical Health and Medicine at JCU. After five years at a large city hospital, I moved to the remote Kimberley region of Western Australia, where I was challenged with maintaining and improving IC practices, processes and plans across the regions small hospitals and remote primary health centres. It was a challenge that I loved, understood and was good at!

While moving to JCU (Cairns) and out of the healthcare world into academia was somewhat of a ‘culture shock’, the ability to maintain my interest and passion for IC continued with the creation of the Graduate Certificate of Infection Control (which I coordinate). When I was asked by Caryn if I would I be interested in working with Atoifi Hospital, without any hesitation I said yes! What’s more, I said I would even do a PhD around this (it’s only taken me five years to say yes to a PhD).

The week in Atoifi Hospital exceeded my expectations. Not only was I amongst a group of people (fellow researchers from Australia) who were passionate about the public health of the people, and with whom I could talk the same language, but I was among the most welcoming and accepting community at Atoifi Hospital. The Hospital was surprisingly larger than I anticipated and catered for not only medical requirements but surgical as well. A theatre, emergency room, outpatients area and wards (including maternity) meant that the hospital had the capacity for about 60 inpatients, and the ability to explore, speak to staff and audit infection control processes throughout the week. I was made to feel so welcome that I struggled with my emotions when it was time to leave.

The staff at AAH have a big job ahead of them. It is a hospital setting with an unreliable supply of consumable resources, and a built environment that doesn’t support even some of the most basic IC practices. This means it will take some time to raise the IC standards and identify alternative ways of approaching the IC challenges. The IC team (pictured) at Atoifi Hospital know their work much better than I do, and they know what is ‘doable’ - the solutions need to come from what they know they can do. Together we will reach their goal of improved IC practices. With some lateral thinking and local ingenuity anything is achievable!

Thank you to Rowena Asugeni, Director of Nursing, for inviting me to partner with Atoifi Hospital, and to all the staff for being my source of information and inspiration. This is just the beginning.

Photos: (i) Newly formed IC team,Atoifi Hospital (L-R) Dr Jason Diau, Kenny Moutoa, Rowena Asugeni, Lyndelle Asugeni ; (ii) Vanessa saying goodbye

Starting and ending well is crucial for research management

by Tommy Esau

A three-day Research Capacity Strengthening Workshop was held at Atoifi Adventist Hospital (AAH) on April 18-21, 2016. The Workshop focussed on Project Management, Financial Management and Academic Writing for Research, with the aim to equip community leaders, health workers, students and administrators with management and financial skills.

The Workshop was facilitated by Mrs Rowena Asugeni, Director of Nursing at AAH, Professor Rick Speare, Dr David MacLaren, Dr Peter Massey, and Dr Michelle Redman-MacLaren, public researchers from Australia. Mr Hilary Toloka, Research Nurse, Mr Tommy Esau, Research Worker and Mr Humpress Harrington, Head Pacific Adventist University - Atoifi Campus also facilitated discussions, including daily monitoring and evaluation.

The Workshop sessions were run twice each day, with morning sessions and evening sessions mostly in Pijin and English. Practical sessions were held in the afternoons using examples and ideas from different research projects the Atoifi Health Research groups have been involving in.

More than 50 participants from various organisations including leaders from the communities, teachers, nurse professionals, Atoifi hospital staff, Pacific Adventist University Atoifi campus students and staff, and a representative from PAU in PNG also came for Research workshop.

Discussions sought to come to a shared understanding of the essence of terms such as ‘Research’ and ‘Project’. Assumptions were challenged and meanings shared, with changes made to some terms such as ‘research’, which was referred to as ‘wok fo faedim aut’. When people hear the word ‘project’ in Solomon Islands they sometimes think money will be plentiful. This is not the case with grassroots research. Thus we used to term ‘program’ in place of ‘project’ to better fit the cultural and community context in which the research work is taking place. This was a significant outcome of the Workshop.

Mary Laetemu, a female nurse from Namolaelae clinic, said, “this workshop is a indeed a blessing for me. The knowledge and skills I’ve learned will assist me in many ways, both on administration level and financial management.” William Baefo ‘oa a community health nurse from Nafinua Area Health Centre also stated, “research skills are important for all nurses to improve nursing practice and management skills. A lot of projects don’t end well because people lack these skills on planning and proper monitoring and evaluating. Many have shared similar sentiments after attending this Research workshop, was a something of value.

Another WHO TDR- funded research Workshop was planned for July and a Research Symposium in October later this year. This is to strengthen research capacity using learning by doing model to assist local researchers to understanding various issues affecting their communities, organisations and institutions; and how well they able to positively respond in addressing some of these issues.

For more information about the Atoifi Research Group, Please visit: or email rowena

Atoifi Researcher features in Australian radio programme

Today (12.4.16) the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) aired a news story about the hunt for rare monkey-faced bats and giant rats. The story opens with singing and dancing by Mr Tommy Esau, Research Assistant with the Atoifi Health Research Group.

Entitled "Scientists venture to Bougainville, Solomon Islands in pursuit of rare mammals", the ABC story reported how the power of traditional knowledge and a new generation of world-class local biologists will be harnessed to find rare and new species of mammals in the Western Pacific.

Chiefs of the Kwainaa'isi Cultural Centre in East Kwaio are working with researchers Mr Tommy Esau and Dr David MacLaren, who recently travelled to the Australian Museum in Sydney, Australia. There Tommy and David partnered with Professor Tim Flannery, researchers from Bougainville and scientists at the Museum.

You can read the transcript below or listen here:

Photo: Tommy Esau being recorded by Jemima Garrett, ABC (photo courtesy of David MacLaren)