Kwaio leaders talk medicinal plants with visiting CEPF team

Medicinal Plants Project story by Tommy Esau, Research Worker

Chief Esau Kekeubata and me from the Atoifi Health Research Group met with the team from the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) which included the Grant Director - Jack Tordoff and Grant Manager - Antonia Cermak-Terzian, both of whom are based in Washington DC, USA. Also in attendance was the Regional Implementation Team consisting of Luisa Tagicakibau-Moce - Team Leader Admin based in Suva, Fiji and Lysa Wini, the Solomon Islands based CEPF Project Liaison Officer.

The International CEPF team are currently in Solomon Islands to review CEPF funded projects. Because of tight schedules the team were not able to travel to Malaita, so we travelled to Honiara. Esau and I provided an overview of the success of the medicinal plants project, where capacity has been built to produce videos, booklets and collect botanical specimens.

The CEPF team were very excited to see us and were curious to know about the project, the place, culture and people of East Kwaio. The CEPF thought we only had limited potential on what we could accomplish in East Kwaio, but after they saw the videos and booklet they could not believe the high standard and quality of the product that we had produced. Jack Tordoff revealed, “I am impressed with your work and the standard that you have demonstrated. This proves to me that you have done exceptionally great work”. “I’ve seen the evidence,” he commented. He further encouraged us to submit an application for the next round of CEPF funding due July 2015 to continue with the work. In our meeting he said, “This is important work, and the resources, the unique knowledge shared will be useful for your people, future generations and other parts of the world.”

The Medicinal Plant project is due to be completed in July this year. Dr David MacLaren will meet with the study team at Kwainaa ‘isi Cultural Centre in early July to write the final report together and plan for the next steps.

The meeting in Honaira was indeed a productive one with many questions and interactive discussions. One of the important questions raised by the CEPF team was: what is the next step forward after this project? We then outlined some of the potential future plans to build on the foundation established. We want to extend this further - documenting all of the useful plants in East Kwaio; establishing a Local Herbarium at the Kwainaa ‘isi Cultural Centre; integrating some of these diverse knowledge and skills in the curriculum of schools in East Kwaio; as well as having the booklets being used in clinics and the hospital. We also want to document knowledge about other species, including animals. However our limitation is financial support. We therefore look forward to submitting an application for the next round of the CEPF funding and maintaining this partnership with us. We also hope that CEPF leaders can one day visit Kwaio and especially the Kwainaa’isi Cultural Centre.

For more information, please email Tommy Esau:

Photos (L-R): (i) Chief Esau Kekeubata, Tommy Esau and Antonia Cermak-Terzian; (ii) Lysa Wini, Tommy Esau, Jack Tordoff, Esau Kekeubata, Antonia Cermak-Terzian, Luisa Tagikacibau.

HIV research reported by Atoifi Health Research Group

A new research article about HIV has been published by the Atoifi Health Research Group. The study was conducted to understand local knowledge and attitudes about HIV in rural East Malaita. Findings are being used to inform locally targeted public health responses to HIV and other sexually transmitted infections in the area.

Of the 53 survey participants, 90% knew HIV could be transmitted between men and women during sex but less than 50% knew HIV could be transmitted between two men having sex. 45% thought HIV could be transmitted by mosquitoes and only 55% agreed condoms help protect from HIV. Most participants reported negative attitudes towards people living with HIV.

These findings showed that community members require accurate information about HIV transmission and that entrenched stigma is an issue. It also highlighted the need for a locally informed health systems response to HIV and other Sexually Transmitted Infections.

This study was a part of research capacity strengthening activities, that have been ongoing at Atoifi since 2009. It was was conducted in a way that local health professionals and community members could ‘learn-by-doing’. Further studies are currently being planned in sexual and reproductive health by the Atoifi Health Research Group.

To read this article for free in the Western Pacific Surveillance and Response Journal, please visit:

For more information about this study, please email Dr David MacLaren or Relmah Timothy-Harington

Photo (L-R): Relmah Timothy-Harrington, Michelle Redman-MacLaren, Kenny Moutoa,
Rex Fo’olego and Silas Laubeu discuss data collected during the HIV study.

Atoifi Researcher Joins Leaders in Pacific Mental Health

Group photo LMH Course 2015

James Asugeni, Mental Health Instructor for Malaita Province, recently joined a Leadership in Mental Health course in Cairns, Australia. James, along with over 20 mental health leaders from the Pacific and Asia participated in a course adapted from work developed by Sangarth (Goa, India) and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. Professor Ernest Hunter facilitated the Leadership in Mental Health course with the aim to: (i) equip mental health leaders with methods to develop and scale up interventions for people with mental disorders in low resource settings; and (ii) to enhance leadership skills needed to promote the human rights of people affected by mental disorders.

James Asugeni is also an active researcher with the Atoifi Health Research group. James presented his research findings to the Leadership group about the mental health impacts of climate change in his local area of East Kwaio, Solomon Islands. This research showed that people living on low-lying and man-made islands in the Pacific are acutely aware of the effects of sea-level raise. The inundation of villages during high-tide season is changing the way individuals, families and communities go about their daily life. This change affects the way people think and act – both individually and collectively. Further research is now being planned to expand upon these preliminary findings.

James will also present aspects of this research at an AITHM seminar at James Cook University (JCU) tomorrow (Wednesday 20 May, 2015)

For more information about this work please email James Asugeni: or Dr David MacLaren:

For more information about the Leadership in Mental Health course, please contact Professor Ernest Hunter or visit:

Photo: Participants and tutors of the ‘Leadership in Mental Health’ course, including Atoifi Health Research Group researchers James Asugeni and Michelle Redman-MacLaren. Photo by Dr David MacLaren, taken at The Cairns Institute, JCU.

Recording traditional knowledge about medicinal plants at Kwainaa’isi Kwaio Cultural Centre

By Tommy Esau, Research Worker, Atoifi Health Research Group

In March 2015, team members of the Atoifi Health Research Group had an amazing trip to the mountains to film and photograph 15 plants traditionally used for food and medicines by people of East Kwaio. Benjamin Speare, son of Professor Rick Speare, along with Chiefs Laete’esafi and Waneagea, members of the Kwaainaa’isi cultural group and members of the Atoifi Health Research Group also conducted the first ever capacity strengthening workshop to be held at Kwainaa’isi Cultural Centre. Ben had been invited into the mountains by Chief Esau and Chief Waneagea while at James Cook University in Australia earlier this year.

Climbing the mountain was really tough for Ben, especially up on the first few hills. But with strong determination and perseverance we all managed to arrive safely late in the afternoon. Ben fitted in well with the culture and lifestyle despite it being his first encounter with the traditional lifestyle of East Kwaio. He discovered a lot of amazing things including the landscape, the beautiful mountains, the clouds and more importantly the culture and way of life of people in the mountains.

Frank Zich, Curator of the Australian Tropical Herbarium at James Cook University, Australia also joined the team two days later. Frank was invited to help the local people to become proficient users of equipment to collect, identify, preserve and archive medicinal plants.

During those five days in the mountains, Ben and Frank taught us skills of how to photograph and video plants, record, produce and preserve plants, archive materials in the Kwainaa’isi Cultural Centre. Dr David MacLaren also worked with leaders of the cultural centre on project management, organizational governance and financial management.

It was great to see the community involvement in the making of the videos. The videos included both males and females and even young people shared their knowledge about the importance of their environment to their livelihoods. This has triggered new insights and provided new experiences for them. The young people realised how important the forest and the environment are and about the idea of sustainability. Their involvement was a sign of strong support for the project and they are realising the significance of the work.
After this time in the mountains, Ben and I went to the coastal village of Wyfolonga where we edited the video clips for 4 solid days - 12 hours of work per day! After the hard work, we organised a special trip Leli Island as a reward. The trip was one of the highlights of Ben’s stay in East Kwaio. We spent the whole day on the Island enjoying barbecue fish and time out on the beautiful beach.

The leaders and Chiefs of Kwainaa’isi Cultural Centre have expressed their sincere appreciation to Ben, Frank and David for their great help and for their time. Chief Waneagea also stated that this is just the beginning of our partnership. We hope that these relationships established will not stop here but will be long-term, well into the future.

This appreciation was two-way. It was the first time that Ben and Frank had come to Kwaio and they appreciated the group for allowing them to be introduced to the unique culture of Kwaio. They stated that they had learned a lot of amazing things they had never seen in other places they had visited. They realised that many Kwaio people have a lot of knowledge about custom medicine from the forest. They should treasure and care for their environment. Ben and Frank really enjoyed the trip and we are looking forward to them coming back again so that we can continue to learn together.

For more information please see Chief Esau Kekeubata at Atoifi Hospital or email:

Photos (L-R): Ben and Tommy working with community leaders to learn about photography; Frank with chiefs and community leaders at Kwainaa’isi Cultural Centre discuss plant preservation.