Master of Public Health student
She wants to help the women and girls of Papua New Guinea, says Master of Public Health student Ainda Piako Kepon who came to AUT as an international student, supported by a Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade New Zealand – Manaaki New Zealand Scholarship.
“Papua New Guinea has the highest maternal and child mortality and morbidity rates among the Pacific countries. I’ve been working in the health field for almost 20 years, and have vast experience in advocating for inequalities and injustices inflicted on young mothers, women and girls when it comes to sexual and reproductive rights.
“I realised that I lacked the knowledge of to how to best overcome these challenges and help the country improve the sexual and reproductive health of women and girls. I therefore chose to study the Master of Public Health to be well equipped with advanced knowledge to deliver quality solutions that address the issues affecting the health and livelihood of such vulnerable groups.”
Expecting to finish her studies later this year, Ainda already has a good idea what she wants to do when she returns to her home country.
“My goal is to help improve the sexual and reproductive health of the women and girls of Papua New Guinea. I’d love to be involved in any public health career that addresses the health issues of mothers and children.”
Research that makes a difference
For her Master of Public Health research, Ainda is investigating how to strengthen the sexual and reproductive health of displaced women and children in Melanesia.
“I’ve chosen this topic because the unpreceded scale of natural disaster and conflict displacement has hampered human livelihood. When people are displaced, they lose their homes, gardens, health centres and schools, and are relocated to places where such services are often not available. These groups are vulnerable to diseases, food shortages and violent activities.
“Studies have shown that women and children are the most vulnerable groups being displaced, and their rights to sexual and reproductive health services are limited. It’s vital to understand such groups of people to help them during the disaster response preparedness process and the post-disaster recovery. I’ve chosen this research topic to systemically review the sexual and reproductive health experiences of internally displaced women and children in Melanesia, and review the policies currently available in Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands.”
She hopes that her research will lead to recommendations to policy decision-makers to improve the sexual and reproductive health of internally displaced women and children. Ainda’s master’s degree research is supervised by Dr Radilaite Cammock.
She wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the Master of Public Health to other students, Ainda says.
“I’d highly recommend this programme to other international and domestic students who have the same interest in public health and who want to further their knowledge in the field they’re passionate about. I’ve loved learning from skilled and knowledgeable lectures like Dr Radilaite Cammock and Dr Ailsa Holloway. I appreciate their input into my career pathway.
“For me, the most enjoyable thing has been the connection between the public health courses and disaster risk reduction courses. I included an elective course on disaster risk reduction in my public health degree, and it was overwhelming how well they complement each other. I’ve learnt a lot of new information and feel fully equipped to return home and serve my country.”
Like many students, Ainda had some challenges due to studying during a global pandemic but she is grateful for the support she received to overcome these obstacles.
“The biggest challenge I’ve faced was switching from face-to-face study to learning online because of the restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, AUT made it easier by offering all the electronic devices needed to study online, and that made it less stressful for me.”