Dr Liz Milward, a Senior Lecturer from the University’s School of Biomedical Sciences and Pharmacy, recently visited the Solomon Islands where she progressed various education and health initiatives and met with representatives of local communities, government and non-government organisations to discuss possibilities for future education and health projects.
These projects included the potential co-supervision of PhD students with doctors conducting health research with the Pacific arm of World Vision as well as health-related activities with volunteer organisation OceansWatch International which visits remote coastal communities.
Liz spent time in the Reef Islands, a very remote part of the Solomons, where she assisted with a project aimed at improving local water supplies and also helped deliver basic medical supplies from Medical Aid Abroad to villagers.
“As far as I’ve been able to find out, there have never been any health surveys of any kind in these remote regions,” Liz says. “There are the usual problems of poverty that you see in many parts of the world, but in most places there’s generally more outside help coming in than they get in the Reefs.”
While the larger Reef Islands may have a clinic staffed by a nurse, there are no other health services, with no dental or eye care available. To visit the nearest doctor requires a 70km open ocean crossing in a small open dinghy or ‘banana boat’, therefore many islanders rarely, if ever, see healthcare professionals.
Liz says that it is hard to judge how serious the problems are as the islanders are often stoic. “I saw one small girl slashed just above one eye by a machete, nothing too serious but a small chunk taken out and a lot of blood,” Liz recalls. “She remained completely silent, no screaming, no wailing, not a sound.”
Significant common problems include infectious diseases, respiratory problems and malnutrition, while some villagers suffer from untreated genetic conditions. Infant mortality is high and unemployment, depression and alcohol and drug abuse are also becoming increasingly serious concerns.
Liz notes that despite these conditions, the Reef Islanders are doing what they can to manage and improve their conditions. “It’s so rare for the islanders to have people visiting from other places, the enthusiasm, excitement and intense interest throughout the communities has to be experienced to be fully appreciated,” she says.
“Custom meeting houses and school rooms often fill to capacity for discussions and educational events, with more people crowding outside watching through open doors and windows or through holes in the leaf thatched walls. Teaching takes on a completely new dimension.”