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.

East Kwaio medicinal plants project to feature in research seminar

This Wednesday, 22 April 2015, the East Kwaio Biodiversity project funded by the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund will feature at a seminar co-sponsored by the Centre for Tropical and Sustainability Science (TESS) and the Australian Institute for Tropical Health and Medicine (AITHM). The following notice was written by Professor Steve Turton from James Cook University.

"I'm delighted to inform you of our first multi-centre research seminar this year. TESS has joined with the Australian Institute of Tropical Health & Medicine (AITHM) and the Australian Tropical Herbarium (ATH) to co-host what promises to be a very informative transdisciplinary research seminar. Our speakers are Dr David MacLaren (AITHM), a public health researcher with two decades of experience in addressing community health issues in remote areas of the Solomon Islands and PNG; and Frank Zich, the meticulous Curator of ATH, with 25-years experience in managing herbarium collections, botanical sampling, developing plant ID tools and taxonomic research.

David and Frank have teamed together with the traditional Kwaoi people of Malaita, Solomon Islands, in an innovative collaborative ethnobotanical project where traditional use of medicinal plants is being enhanced with western scientific knowledge. This promises to be an outstanding seminar and an example of how different disciplines and world views can collide to produce sustainable environmental and social outcomes for Indigenous people."

Details of the free seminar are attached. For more information please email:

‘Seeing is believing’: Success for Solomon Islands Researchers at the Atoifi Health Research Symposium

“Seeing is believing” is how the exceptional presentations at the Inaugural Atoifi Health Research Symposium were described by Professor Ernest Hunter, Professor of Psychiatry from James Cook University (JCU).

Professor Hunter joined chiefs from Kwaio, community leaders, Ministry of Health, Provincial Health and international researchers from Papua New Guinea and Australia at the Symposium held at Atoifi Adventist Hospital on Thursday 12 March, 2015. Solomon Islands researchers presented on studies undertaken by the Atoifi Health Research Group which included: spectacular declines in malaria rates in the East Kawio; community and hospital responses to tuberculosis; village involvement in reducing intestinal parasites; medicinal rainforest plants; primary health care responses to recent outbreaks of measles and bloody diarrhoea and mental health effects of climate change.

Professor Sarah Larkins, Dean of Research for the College of Medicine at JCU told the researchers who had presented that they should be very proud of the quality of their work. “Your presentations today were at a standard that they could be presented anywhere in the world”, she said.

The most heartfelt response to the presentations, however, came from Chief John Laete’esafi, who spoke on behalf of the chiefs of East Kwaio. He stood and explained how the process of community-based research since 2009 had changed the way health was understood in his community and how health services were now responding to the needs of people from the mountains. He told those gathered that because of the community-based research the relationship with the Hospital, which had been tense in the past, has changed and Kwaio people and Atoifi Hospital were now partners.

Mr Humpress Harrington, Lead Investigator of the WHO Capacity Building grant that has funded much of the work, opened and closed the Symposium with a report of research capacity strengthening activities and a final, open session to discuss where-to-next. A large whiteboard was filled with ideas, with Humpress exclaiming, “We need to write more grants, there is more research to be done!”

The week following the Symposium, researchers from Solomon Islands and Australia worked together to progress research projects, community development water and sanitation projects that have been informed research and a biodiversity projects with the Kwainaa’isi Cultural Centre. Other researchers worked on manuscripts to ensure their research is written-up and widely available for people across the Pacific and beyond (see research articles at

The Symposium Proceedings and Book of Abstracts is now available on the Atoifi Health Research Group website, along with PowerPoint presentations shared by each of the researchers:

The next research capacity strengthening workshop is scheduled for July 2015. For more information please contact the lead facilitators for this workshop: Mrs Rowena Asugeni or Mr Humpress Harrington

Photos: (L) The attendees of the Atoifi Health Research Symposium celebrate at the end of a successful day; (R) The Symposium Organising Committee (photos supplied by Benjamin Speare)

Story by Michelle Redman-MacLaren