From Practice to Action for Conservation in Kwaio

Following a successful three weeks at the Australian Tropical Herbarium in Cairns Australia, East Kwaio chief and Atoifi Health Research Group member, Esau Foofafimae Kekeubata has returned to Solomon Islands to put into practice what he has learnt. With supplies such as secateurs, ropes, snap lock bags and glue, Esau and his fellow chiefs will collect specimens from 16 plants that are traditionally used for food and medicine in East Kwaio. These specimens will be preserved, photographed and identified in partnership with colleagues from the Australian Tropical Herbarium, who will be hosted by the chiefs in the East Kwaio mountains during 2015.

This conservation management project is funded by the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) and supported by Atoifi Hospital, James Cook University and the Australian Tropical Herbarium.

To see a recent story on the Australian Tropical Herbarium Facebook page, please visit:

For more information about the project, please contact Esau Foofafimae Kekeubata at Atoifi Hospital, Malaita, Solomon Islands or email Esau at:

Lead Investigator of this study is Dr David MacLaren:

TB project progresses: A second set of TB videos in Kwaio language

Tuberculosis (TB) is a major problem in East Kwaio. The TB team in the Atoifi Heath Research Group is directly addressing this problem by using innovative new ways to engage local communities in a conversation about reducing TB in the area. A part of this response is the production of locally made videos about TB.

In 2013, the TB team wrote, directed, acted and produced a series of video clips about TB in local Kwaio language. TB workers, Kwaio chiefs and community leaders all came together in the project. The video clips helped people to be aware of the signs and symptoms of TB, how to get tested for TB and how to get treated for TB. These video clips were then shown in 41 villages and hamlets.

TB workers gave out 255 questionnaires to evaluate the video clips. One of the main ideas that came out of the questionnaire was that people believed TB was a result of geegelema (sorcery). In response to this the Australian Respiratory Council funded a follow-up project to support further work on TB.

A second set of video clips are currently being filmed in response to these local beliefs. The TB team are engaging with the following ideas:
1. While respecting local beliefs about the role of geegelema, explain TB is transmitted by a bacteria (Mycobacterium tuberculosis)
2. It is vital that hospital medicine be taken every day to the end of the 6 month treatment course
3. Family members, church leaders and chiefs need to support a person living with TB, as this will increase their chance for healing
4. Traditional medicine and prayer is OK, but a person living with TB must take their Hospital medicine every day too

Central to all of this work is the Kwaio model of wellbeing – To`orule`anga . This approach is culturally consistent with three key components:
1. Wado (land)- life is sustained by land for growing gardens, producing materials for building, plants for medicine and habitat for animals
2. Falafala (custom/tradition)- this describes important ways of doing things in the local area
3. Fuufutanga (Genealogy)- this describes social connectedness to the past, people in the present and future generations

By centralizing Kwaio ways of understanding health and balancing this with outside ways, leaders are working to reduce the amount of TB in their communities. The second series of video clips is expected to be completed and distributed by the end of 2014.

To watch the first set of TB video clips produced at Atoifi, see:
For more information about these projects, please contact: Chief Esau Kekeubata or Dr Peter Massey

Pictures: Scenes from filming the current TV video clips

East Kwaio Chief works with Tropical Herbarium Specialists

East Kwaio chief and Atoifi Health Research Group member, Esau Foofafimae Kekeubata is currently being hosted by James Cook University (JCU) and the Australian Tropical Herbarium in Cairns, Australia. On behalf of fellow chiefs, John Laete’esafi and Jackson Waneagea, Esau and the JCU team are working to collect, preserve and identify rainforest plants that are traditionally used for food and medicine in East Kwaio, Solomon Islands. The project aims to improve conservation management with local communities in East Kwaio and is funded by the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF).

Esau is visiting the Australian Tropical Herbarium for three weeks to develop scientific plant collection and preservation skills. He is working closely with Dr David MacLaren from the College of Medicine and Dentistry at JCU and Mr Frank Zich (Curator) and Professor Darren Crayn (Director) of the Australian Tropical Herbarium.

This project has been a long time coming. Esau greatly values the knowledge his elders shared with him when he was a young man, about the medicinal use of plants. But, for many years Esau has been concerned that the next generation of young people will not have the same opportunities to learn. Many young people have sought an education outside of their traditional place and have not had the chance to acquire traditional knowledge, including knowledge about how to look after and use rainforest plants. Esau explains, “Lan hem laif blong mifala, bus hem laif blong mifala.” (our land is our life, our forest is our life).

Using a learn-by-doing approach, this project delivers hands-on training in documenting and recording traditional knowledge about medicinal and food plants in the mountains of East Kwaio. The project is providing training in practical management skills, organizational governance and financial management. Both facets are essential to protect local biodiversity against outside pressures, including logging and mining.

To listen to an extended audio interview with Esau Foofafimae Kekeubata in Solomon Islands Pijin (17 minutes), please visit here:

If you would like to know more about the 'Traditional knowledge, customary stewardship and strengthening practical approaches to conservation management projects in Kwaio, Solomon Islands' project, please email Lead Investigator, Dr David MacLaren:

Photo: Frank Zich working with Esau Foofafimae Kekeubata (photo credit: David MacLaren)

Malaria declines in East Kwaio! New research from Solomon Islands

Malaria is a major health challenge for people living in Solomon Islands. However, something has changed in East Kwaio over the past 7 years. Helen Oloifana-Polosovai, the Medical Laboratory Scientist at Atoifi Hospital noticed a marked decline in malaria cases, especially the proportion of people testing positive for Plasmodium falciparum (Pf). Helen wanted to know more.

Helen discussed her observations with Professor Rick Speare (Tropical Health Solutions) and colleagues during a health research workshop in 2013. Given the extensive records at Atoifi Hospital, members of the Atoifi Health Research Group conducted a descriptive study using:
1. Laboratory records of malaria tests
2. Hospital admissions for malaria
3. Prescription of malaria treatments

Results show a spectacular decline in malaria cases in the Atoifi Hospital catchment area, particularly for Pf which declined by 97% from 2008 to 2013. The decline was associated with the use of artemisinin-based combined therapy and improved relationships between the Atoifi Hospital and surrounding communities.

Results have just been published in the Western Pacific Surveillance and Response Journal.
This research was funded by a WHO-TDR grant

For more information about this research, email:

Photo (L-R): Authors Prof Rick Speare, Humpress Harrington and Helen Oloifana-Polosovai with colleagues at a recent health research workshop