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Bringing together the Pacific family

09 September 2019

RANZCOG’s vision in global health is to improve the health of women and their families, particularly in our geographical region.

It was with that vision in mind that saw RANZCOG President Dr Vijay Roach, Vice-President Dr John Tait and members of the RANZCOG Global Health Committee attend July’s Pacific Society for Reproductive Health (PSRH) conference in Papua New Guinea.

We gathered the thoughts of some of those who attended.

Dr Mary Bagita, Chair of the Local Organising Committee, President of the PNG Society of Obstetrics and Gynaecology and RANZCOG Pacific Associate Member

Considering that the conference actually eventuated was significant in that PNG had just hosted APEC in November, 2018 and therefore securing funding was a challenge. On top of that, we were not expecting large numbers to attend because of perceived safety and security concerns, and high costs of travel and accommodation in PNG. However, my colleagues and I were pleasantly surprised at the turnout of more than 300 participants from all over PNG and the Pacific, and also a few facilitators and guest speakers who travelled from the UK, USA, the Philippines, and Bangladesh. Attendance and participation by UN and WHO representatives from within PNG, the Pacific, and the region was another highlight signifying the importance of this meeting.

Whilst RANZCOG is already playing a significant and important role in the Pacific, the RANZCOG President’s attendance along with the Vice-President and members of the RANZCOG Global Health Committee was another stand-out for me. Dr Vijay Roach’s opening address and subsequent participation and involvement in the meetings, and his open dialogue with us made me feel that there are more exciting times ahead between RANZCOG and the Pacific.

The level and quality of presentations has continued to improve over the years, so it was quite exciting to see so many good papers from across the Pacific, especially from midwives, with some good research coming from the Solomon Islands. The conference topics included maternity care, rural health, cervical cancer, gender-based violence affecting reproductive health, family planning and adolescent health attracted lively debate and discussions. The family planning debate was a highlight on the last day of the conference.

Bringing PSRH participants to the APEC Haus for the opening night was a very memorable occasion. Set at the Ela Beach beachfront this iconic venue, built in the shape of a lakatoi (traditional Papuan sailing vessel), specifically for APEC 2018, was the perfect opening venue. Guests were treated to traditional dancing, a dinner buffet, and contemporary music provided by talented local musicians/vocal artists. We were privileged to be addressed by the deputy Australian High Commissioner, Ms Caitlin Wilson, who also presented a message from the Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Minister for Women, Ms Marise Payne. Speeches were also presented by Mrs Janet Sios (patron of the local organising committee, an accountant, and also a local businesswoman of high standing in the community, and co-director of Paradise Private Hospital, the first private hospital in PNG), Mr Bruce Campbell (Director and Representative, UNFPA Pacific Sub-regional Office in Fiji), Dr Pushpa Nusair (PSRH President), and Dr Paison Dakulala (deputy Secretary, National Dept of Health) who represented the Minister for Health and HIV/AIDS. An exciting night indeed.

On the second night of events, invited participants were treated to ‘a reception for Champions of Women’s Health’ hosted by Her Excellency, Ms Catherine Ebert-Gray, US Ambassador to PNG, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu. Also in attendance at the reception was the Solomon Islands High Commissioner to PNG, His Excellency Mr Barnabas Anga. It was a privilege and honour to have met and liaised with the Ambassador almost a year before the PSRH conference and an equally exciting night of food and drinks, meeting and networking with our leaders and also with clinicians on the ground from remote, rural, and urban areas. The reception was held at the Ambassador’s residence and her enthusiasm and eagerness to acknowledge the work of reproductive health workers and to be a part of this conference was both laudable and admirable. A humbling experience and a truly wonderful and memorable night.

The most satisfying component of the conference was all the positive feedback we received from everyone telling us how well-organised and enjoyable the conference was and also that they were well-looked after. To know that people came from far to attend this conference and left with memories worth their travel is indeed extremely satisfying.

I would like to acknowledge the teamwork of the local organising committee and all the many people who assisted in the background, and the many sponsors and donors whose support was key to running a successful conference.

The theme of the conference was ‘Pacific Experience for Pacific Solutions in Reproductive Health’. I felt that the main take-away message for this conference would be to use the Pacific experience/research/data to find solutions in reproductive health appropriate to the Pacific and/or to each local setting. To see what has worked or is working in other Pacific nations that can be used in our own settings, and also to offer what is working in our setting to other Pacific nations. To share our research findings and collaborate on some areas of common interest. And also, to use global evidence adapted to the Pacific setting.  The topics of discussion during the conference and the pre-conference workshops were those that were thought to be of importance to PNG and the Pacific.

The Pacific Islands of Melanesia, Polynesia and Micronesia share common cultural sensitivities that affect reproductive health in a similar way, and I believe it’s important to continue talking about these issues in order to improve care to women and their families. A conference involving all cadres of health workers working in reproductive health is unique and I believe gives a larger voice to the health issues affecting women and their newborn infants.

Dr Arthur Elijah, Local Organising Committee member and RANZCOG Pacific Associate Member

The local organising committee didn’t think there would be more than 250 participants at the conference, so it was indeed very pleasing to have more than 350 participants from within the country and from about 15 other Pacific countries including Australia and New Zealand. Most of the facilitators of the pre-conference workshops have been conducting these workshops for PSRH for some time so it was great to have them volunteer their time, resources, skills and experiences yet again at this conference. All of the workshops were well attended. The conference wouldn’t have been what it was had it not been for the presence of every single participant that attended. And to think that they were all here with one goal, an honourable one – to improve the lives of women, girls and their families, most of whom are unfortunate, was most rewarding.

Representation from reputable organizations such as WHO UNICEF, UNFPA and RANZCOG was remarkable. It was very encouraging to have representatives from WHO Regional Office and other relevant UN agencies participate in the conference. Not only did they present important information and data that would inform health service planning but being there also gave member countries the opportunity to establish links and networks that are important for future working relationships.

While RANZCOG has always provided support to PSRH both financially and through the participation of its fellows, the presence of President Dr Vijay Roach and Vice President Dr John Tait and all the other “friends” of PSRH that are associated with RANZCOG was an encouraging and comforting visible evidence of RANZCOG’s continuing support and endeavours to strengthen the bonds of relationship which is critical for PSRH.

It was also pleasing to have prominent midwives such as Ms Ann Kinnear, past immediate CEO of Australian College of Midwives and Professor Caroline Homer AO, midwifery professor and researcher, attend the conference. Professor Homer’s speech as the Brian Spurret Orator was inspirational.

As advocated by the theme – Pacific experience for Pacific Solutions in Reproductive Health – the conference hoped that participants would learn from each other’s experiences and be made aware of the innovative approaches that have improved maternal and neonatal outcomes when employed in resource challenged settings. An example that comes to mind is the bebi kilok (baby clock trialed and promoted by UNICEF) that sounds an alarm when it detects hypothermia in preterm and low birth weight babies. Other examples are the waiting houses for high risk pregnant women and incentivizing supervised deliveries in Milne Bay PNG, making modern methods of family planning more accessible to women and adolescents in the Solomon Islands and kangaroo mother care in the Philippines.

Is it important that conferences like PSRH are held for several reasons:
  • Nearly all Pacific Island countries don’t have established CPD programs for all cadres of health workers so PSRH provides opportunities for learning and re-learning important and necessary skills.
  • PSRH also provides opportunities to share experiences that can be used to improve outcomes in other member countries; and
  • PSRH provides the forum where quality data can be shared and used to identify the most important gaps and to find solutions that would have the biggest impact.

Vice-President Dr John Tait

RANZCOG has a responsibility in the Pacific and it is very important for us to be supportive of the Pacific and their events. One of the great things about the PSRH conference is the inter-disciplinary nature of it, particularly with the significant number of midwives who attended.

The highlights for me were the speakers, the engagement of attendees in the many discussions which took place and the admiration you gain for health professionals in the Pacific as they confront and work in difficult conditions.

President Dr Vijay Roach

Dr Roach commended the inclusivity of the conference, and pledged RANZCOG’s ongoing support for the Pacific to “walk alongside you”.

He also drew inspiration from a quote from Professor Homer’s oration: We all need a booster vaccination of hope, energy and commitment and we need a good dose of courage. Because we know that we cannot leave anyone behind. Our countries and our communities will only be strong and powerful when we leave no-one behind. When we have gender equity at all levels, when all our girls and boys are educated equally and have equal access to high school and further education, when our women can safely choose if and when to have children, when our mothers can give birth safety and our babies grow up to be strong and confident members of the community. I know we can do it.



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