Connect : Connect March 2012
32 Burnet Institute is an organisation with vast experience in health programs in the developing world. We partner with the Australian Volunteers program to provide technical support to volunteers working alongside local counterparts on projects in countries where we currently operate. One of the challenges we face in developing countries is the lack of human resource capacity needed to support programs with which we are associated. Our relationships with local organisations mean that together we can identify areas where skilled volunteers can work with staff to help build capacity. We have supported volunteers to strengthen management for health projects in Laos and PNG, and for projects in the Pacifc’s pharmaceutical sectors. The projects in the pharmaceutical sectors in turn help to strengthen essential medicines programs. In many Pacifc countries a single pharmacist is responsible for developing and maintaining the entire pharmaceutical system as well as overseeing the day-to-day activities that lead to a reliable supply and rational use of appropriate medicines. Pacifc countries are faced with unique challenges associated with extreme isolation and enormous distances between and within nations, limited human resource capacity and very limited purchasing power due to very small populations and no economy of scale. In these small island countries, we have strong links with Ministry of Health staff. Together with the heads of the pharmaceutical sectors we have been able to help develop suitable Australian Volunteers assignments, as well as identify appropriate people to apply for the positions. We provide pre-departure briefngs and training and support during the assignment. In Tonga, Sera Ngeh volunteered through the Australian Volunteer for International Development program as an Australian Youth Ambassador for Development (AYAD) for 12 months. She later returned for a second Australian Volunteers assignment. Sera worked as an educator and regulatory offcer, reviewing legislation, developing protocols and guidelines and implementing a clinical pharmacist position. Sera was followed by two additional Australian Volunteers, Sarah Smith and Megan Arnold, who working as AYADs helped introduce improved clinical services and training. Currently, Tonga is seeking a further placement to consolidate their work and to help undertake review of the Tonga Standard Treatment Guidelines for a second edition. Some of the other areas in which pharmacy sector host organisations have requested assistance include: • Updating policy and legislation • Providing training in regulatory affairs • Strengthening human resources capacity • Strengthening training curriculum • Updating national treatment guidelines • Introducing clinical pharmacy sharing therapeutic and technical information These are all areas beyond the formal training of pharmacists who volunteer. However, international volunteering is a two- way learning process and volunteers have opportunities to acquire new skills, and enhance existing skills at an accelerated rate. Experiences often lead to a lifelong change in perspective, values and career opportunities. In Laos, two Australian Volunteer assignments spanning over three years focused on up-skilling Burnet Institute Laos staff in project management, from planning and implementation through to monitoring and evaluation. The role also included work with the Burnet Laos Country Representative to support overall human resource, fnancial, and project management across the program as a whole. As the workload of the national staff increased, this role ended up becoming a permanent position within the organisation. In East New Britain in PNG, Stephanie Lusby’s assignment was to develop the capacity of the staff of a sexual health project in relation to project management, human resources management, and collaboration with stakeholders such as government, other donors and the community with a view to strengthening the framework of the project and ensuring its sustainability. Stephanie was followed by another volunteer, Geoff Chan, who is continuing this work. You can see in the examples above that often by strengthening one area, other areas of need are identifed, resulting in subsequent assignments achieving more outcomes. As an APO with close links to volunteer host organisations as well as demonstrated experience in delivering programs in developing countries, we play a very important role in providing resources and support to the Australian Volunteers to help their work. Our involvement as an APO has shown that appropriately skilled Australian Volunteers can help strengthen components of health systems and human resource capacity. But equally important, links with the host organisations are maintained and strengthened which is very rewarding. I get a real buzz when I receive emails from volunteers in the feld, and I think with our support, Australian Volunteers can really help contribute to sustainable development. Meanwhile, volunteers have the experience of a lifetime. As Sera Ngeh said, “Living and working in Tonga was an amazing experience. I learnt many new things both professionally and about myself, as well as meeting incredible people!” Beverley Snell, Principal Fellow, Essential Medicines and Community Health, Centre for International Health, Burnet Institute Australian Partner Organisation Story Opposite page: Australian Volunteer Geoff Chan and his partner Simone Cassidy Bottom right: PNG community engagement workers Sakaia Luana and Ellen Kavang planning for a World AIDS Day expo Supporting Australian Volunteers to strengthen the organisational capacity of health departments or medical projects in Asia and the Pacific is a focus of APO Burnet Institute, one of Australia's leading medical research and public health organisations.
Connect Magazine July 2012 Edition
Connect November 2011