New Hospital Research Nurse position created at Atoifi

Atoifi Hospital has created a new position of Hospital Research Nurse to lead clinical and community-based health research.

Mr Hillary Toloka, a Registered Nurse from East Kwaio with international experience, has been appointed to this position. Hillary will work closely with other health researchers based at Atoifi, including Esau Kekeubata and Tommy Esau.

Hillary has previously been the Charge Nurse in the Outpatients Department at Atoifi and the Tuberculosis and Expanded Programme on Immunization (EPI) Coordinator. Hillary was also Chairman of the Organising Committee for the successful Atoifi Health Research Symposium held in March 2015. Hillary is excited about his new role and said, "I love working with the community people to improve their health.”

In 2009, a number of Atoifi colleagues, including research leaders Mr Humpress Harrington and Ms Rowena Asugeni, recommended research infrastructure be created at the Hospital to ensure the sustainability of both research and research capacity strengthening activities, see

The creation of the Hospital Research Nurse position demonstrates the Hospital's commitment to using research to inform evidence-based practice, under the leadership of Ms Rowena Asugeni, Director of Nursing and Ms Peggy Kendall, Chief Executive Officer.

If you would like to contact Hillary, please email: htoloka[at]

Scientists and fishers share knowledge

By Tommy Esau, Research Worker

In May 2015, Chief Esau Kekeubata from the Atoifi Health Research Group joined Dr Simon Foale from the Department of Anthropology, Archaeology and Sociology, James Cook University to do a small study of how fishers in Malaita think about the status of their fisheries. Simon studies fish and how people in Melanesia eat, use and manage fish and fish habitats. He has been to the Solomon Islands a number of times, working in Marovo, Western Province and Langalanga, Malaita Province.

Simon and Esau was also accompanied by Matt Young from James Cook University who is comparing the things that motivate spearfisherman in Australia and Solomon Islands (and honing his Pijin!), supervised by Simon.

“It was indeed a pleasure and a privileged to work with Esau on Kwai and Ngongosila islands,” said Simon. “I am also very grateful to Esau for facilitating the transport across from Auki, it looks like we were lucky to get there and back, as the road was in bad shape, but fortunately the rain slowed down enough and by the time we got there the rivers were all passable.”

Fishers spend a lot of time observing fish and as a result they have a rich knowledge of fish behaviour and ecology – where fish go to different times of the day, months, years and what might be their reasons for movement. Scientists also know fish behaviour and ecology.

Simon explained, “Science and traditional knowledge are complementary and together we can achieve better understanding of fish population, dynamics, especially as human population increase, and fishing pressures also increases.”

The data that he was collecting included answers to questions about what fish eat, where they sleep, whether the populations are increasing or decreasing (or neither) and to what extent fishing is affecting fish population. Simon also documented language names for fish. There is interesting knowledge about fish encoded in names. For example, one of the Kwai – Ngongosila names for the crocodile long tom (Tylosurus crocodilus) is ‘Fure waneasi’, which means ‘Cuts the sea snake.’ This names informs us that the fish likes to attack sea snakes, something that most scientists are unlikely to know.

Simon also collected data on what fish people were eating so a list of fish species that are important for subsistence can be compiled. This information can be combined with scientist’s knowledge about the growth-rates and life-spans of different species of fish to get an idea of fishing pressures. If the diet is dominated by short-lived and fast growing species like Sau tofungana (Island bonito), buma and katukatu, when we know that fishing pressure is probably quite high.

The community of Kwai and Ngongosila were happy to share knowledge with Simon and they reiterated that look forward to continue this relationship with Simon in the future.

Findings from this research will be available soon. Please contact Dr Simon Foale or Chief Esau Kekeubata on for more information.

Photo (L-R): Simon Foale, Esau Kekeubata and Matt Young on Ngongosila island
(Photo supplied by Simon Foale)

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.