25 Mar 2016

From Indonesia to Australia and Back Again (and Continuing Back and Forth)

Dr Brahmaputra Marjadi, MPH (UNSW 2001), PhD in Community Medicine (UNSW 2009), began his pathway in his fields of expertise through a scholarship from Australian Government. “As a medical doctor and a volunteer in the Indonesian Catholic Healthcare Association, I had the opportunity to participate in an Indonesia-Australia Specialised Training Project in 1998. It was a short course on HIV/AIDS management and development,” Brahm recalled. As a lecturer at the Faculty of Medicine, Universitas Wijaya Kusuma Surabaya, Brahm was looking for postgraduate training as required by his budding academic career.

It was during the IASTP HIV course that Brahm met his future supervisor who encouraged him to pursue infectious disease control and epidemiology. “Being such a diverse and vast tropical country, Indonesia is especially vulnerable to epidemics,” Brahm explained. “My supervisor, Prof Mary-Louise McLaws, convinced me that by pursuing this field, I would be able to contribute more for Indonesia.”

 

However, when Brahm went to look into Master of Infection Control program in Australia, he came to realise that the study of healthcare-associated infection control was only available for those with a degree in nursing.

“The next closest field someone with a medical degree can pursue a study in infection control is public health,” Brahm said. Graduating with a Master of Public Health from the University of New South Wales under an Australia Awards Scholarship, Brahm returned to Indonesia in 2001.

In 2004, Brahm was again granted an Australia Awards Scholarship and returned to UNSW to pursue a PhD to further research his MPH project. “It was an amazing experience of academic collaboration,” Brahm recalled. He had wanted to study ways to adapt and implement relevant infection control policies from Australia and other developed nations to the unique situations in Indonesia, especially in regards to remote areas, his area of concern.

”My supervisor and co-supervisor had experience in China, Malaysia and Africa, but none in Indonesia. They enthusiastically proposed to impart knowledge on the methodologies while I would, in turn, share my expertise in regards to Indonesia – essentially forming an academic collaboration,” Brahm explained.

It is a relationship these experts continue to foster today, co-authoring academic journals and discussing aspects of epidemiology through emails and visits.

Brahm indeed came to contribute tremendously for Indonesia. He and other healthcare professionals worked together with the Government of Indonesia in 2010 revising the guidelines for healthcare-associated infection control in the country.

At the time, both larger and smaller hospitals are under the same guidelines, whereas in reality, these hospitals do not share the same conditions. Larger hospitals are relatively well-equipped while smaller hospitals in remote areas must do with much less resources.

In 2010, new guidelines were drafted to take this difference into consideration. “We envisage a two-tiered guideline, each for the larger and smaller hospitals,” Brahm said. “It was an amazing contribution from all parties involved – government officials, medical doctors, nurses, epidemiologists – experts from many disciplines.”

Apart from continuing his tenure at Universitas Wijaya Kusuma Surabaya, Brahm also lectured and supervised student research at the Faculty of Nursing, Universitas Katolik Widya Mandala Surabaya and the Faculty of Pharmacy, Universitas Surabaya. He maintained his affiliation with UNSW as a Visiting Fellow.

In 2011 Brahm took a sabbatical from Surabaya to further his research and teaching work in Australia. From 2011 to 2013, Brahm worked as an Associate Researcher at the AusAID-funded, UNSW-based Human Resources for Health Knowledge Hub. During that time he was involved in three Indonesian-based research projects: a study of HIV transmission risks among Papua-PNG border crossers; a mapping of Indonesian medical schools' curricula; and an evaluation of human resource for health rebuilding in Aceh since the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.

In 2013 the AusAID contract for Brahm’s UNSW-based office ended and he took up a teaching position at the Western Sydney University School of Medicine. He is now a Senior Lecturer in Community-Engaged Learning as well as the School of Medicine's Director of Engagement. Interestingly, the main contribution he makes to the School is based on his training as a medical doctor and general practitioner in Indonesia, because his alma mater, Universitas Airlangga, had a very strong community-oriented medical program. In a way, after studying in Australia and bringing back new knowledge to Indonesia, Brahm is now contributing his Indonesian-based expertise to teaching medical students in Australia.

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