Learning rural and remote health care lessons from the Pacific region

15 May 2015

With the 13th National Rural Health Conference being held in Darwin, the opportunity is being taken to turn attention to the health issues confronted by some of our neighbours in the Pacific region. Rural and remote health practice in Australia often operates in a resource-constrained environment and the International Health program will provide delegates the chance to learn from how health services are delivered by our northern neighbours.

The international sessions of the Conference Program will commence on Tuesday afternoon (26 May) with a plenary session. Health experts from PNG, Palau and Vanuatu will provide an overview of the current state of health in their region and recount their experiences of providing health services in resource-constrained environments. This will be followed by three concurrent sessions focussed on the issues of providing primary care on the frontline; the emerging threat of infectious diseases; and under- and over-nutrition in the Pacific.

The issues explored will provide valuable insights into health challenges in places like Madang in Papua New Guinea, Palau and and Vanuatu, with a particular focus on:

  • sovereignty in health and the ability to live in societies where health is attainable through informed choices;
  • how treating the patient is only half the problem and the importance of building the capacity of local health staff;
  • the relationship between global health commitments and the challenges in implementing the Papua New Guinea National Health Plan 2011-2020;
  • how the health sector is responding to the post-disaster phase following Cyclone Pam in Vanuatu; and
  • current initiatives that can support health professionals in making timely and well-informed decisions on health care for their patients.

National Rural Health Alliance CEO Gordon Gregory said that the concurrent session on Primary care on the frontline is a unique opportunity for delegates to learn from a ‘hands on’ perspective of a rural health professional in a Pacific setting.

“The day-to-day practice for these health professionals is nothing like what we associate with the standard urban GP experience. Instead of the typical office setting, health officers in Pacific nations are more likely to be delivering a baby or administering lifesaving medication in poorly equipped clinics in small isolated villages. Having said that, we have much in common and are driven by the same principles and aspirations," he said

“The value for delegates is in learning how their international colleagues address complex health needs while meeting the challenge of having limited resources in a totally unique and different environment”, he said.

Tuberculosis (TB), and especially drug-resistant TB, poses major threats to public health in the Pacific region and is also a significant risk to those in northern Australia. The concurrent session on infectious diseases therefore has a particular focus on the management of TB in Papua New Guinea and other nearby Pacific nations. The papers presented in this important session will specifically look at: how Australia is not immune to emerging infectious diseases; how health systems in the Asia-Pacific region are responding to drug-resistant TB; the challenges of TB control in Papua New Guinea; and the impact of TB on children in Timor-Leste.

The third International concurrent session examines the issue of over- and under-nutrition in the Pacific. This is a topic of high interest because of the nutrition-related health issues faced by Australians, more often Indigenous, in remote and disadvantaged communities. In this session delegates will be given an update on the nutrition situation in the Asia Pacific region. They will also explore the concept of sovereignty as a new health paradigm in the Pacific, and learn about the emerging double burden of malnutrition in Timor-Leste. The final two presentations provide an overview of clinical placement in the Solomon Islands, and inform delegates on the streamlining of chronic disease management in the Torres Strait.

More information on the speakers and the topics being presented can be found at http://www.ruralhealth.org.au/13nrhc/program/international-session-speakers

Media Release Contact Info: 

Gordon Gregory – Chief Executive               02 6285 4660
Tim Kelly – Chairperson:                             0438 011 383
Leanne Coleman – Conference Manager:     02 6285 4660