New Colombo Plan - Connect to Australia’s future - study in the region.

Virtual Public Health Study Tour

Jahin Anwar is a New Colombo Plan Mobility Grant recipient from The University of Western Australia. Jahin undertook the Virtual Public Health Study Tour in December 2020.

Q: Why did you decide to undertake this virtual program?

By doing the virtual PHST, I wanted to learn about the many challenges which Indonesia faces in its health sector. With an increasingly globalised world, this would give me an opportunity to think about some possible solutions to the problems faced by our neighbours overseas, as Australia and Indonesia are likely to have common public health challenges in the future.  Doing the PHST would give me the intercultural familiarity required to work on such common challenges. Being aware of social diversity is also important for me as a future medical practitioner, both on a global scale and on a local scale, as Australia itself is a country with much diversity amongst its population.


Q: Did you receive a New Colombo Plan Mobility Grant? Why do you think the NCP is an important initiative?

I was fortunate enough to receive the New Colombo Plan Mobility Grant during the virtual PHST. Such initiatives are very important for students such as me who wish to undertake cross-cultural programs. The NCP Mobility Grant ensures that finance is not one of the factors which hinders involvement in overseas study. Allowing students to take the study tour without such worries allows them to be more productive and involved with the content.


Q: What did you find to be the most rewarding part of this virtual program?

The most rewarding part of this virtual program was definitely the many friends I made – both international and from my very own city of Perth! From Citra’s Semangat! to Khansa’s “Zoom Air”, I found the cross-cultural environment refreshing to say the least. Even though I have never set foot in Indonesia, I am proud to say that the tour has adequately proven to me that Indonesian people are some of the nicest people on Earth and I would definitely like to visit someday.


Q: What did you find to be the most challenging about your experience on the Virtual PHST?

One of the greatest challenges I faced would be the language barrier in some of the presentations conducted. Learning languages has historically always been a challenge for me, and I anticipated that learning Indonesian would pose a significant problem. However, as this year the program was virtually run, it gave me a much greater opportunity to learn the language at my own pace. Apps such as google translate were very useful in translating the Indonesian slides to English so I could understand what was being communicated, without interrupting the flow of the presentation.


Q: What public health issues in Indonesia have you become more interested in/aware of as a result of this virtual tour?

One of the major current issues of Indonesian Public Health is the growing cases of COVID-19. Having a large population that is widely distributed among many different islands means that contact tracing can be very difficult, and the spread of the virus may go unchecked. Compared to Australia, Indonesia has had significantly more cases which is still growing. This promises to be a growing challenge for the Indonesian Public Health System.

Another key public health issue I learnt about are the complications that arise from high levels of smoking within the country. 65% of Indonesian men are reported to smoke daily which leads to various respiratory complications. It was very heartbreaking to see children smoking without knowing the long-term impact their actions would lead to. Tackling the prevalent use of cigarettes in the country will be a massive public health issue for Indonesia to face, with the need to address complex, multi-sided factors such as historical and economic influences. Perhaps the most shocking seminar in the tour was delivered by Doctor Dien Anshari, where he revealed the startling rates of tobacco use in Indonesia. Seeing children as young as five smoking was startling, and I became aware of what a massive social problem this was in Indonesia. Linking Global Youth Tobacco Survey (GYTS) Data to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control: The Case for Indonesia showed that Indonesia has “the fifth highest rate of annual cigarette consumption per person of all countries worldwide” (Aditama et al., 2008) This compounds the high rate of cardiovascular diseases present in the country, and the way Indonesia tackles this issue is going to be a key discussion point in the future. Through this seminar, I was also made aware of how fortunate we are in Australia where subsidies and support are available to quit smoking – in comparison to Indonesia where quitters face a much harsher reality.


Q: What was your favourite virtual fieldtrip?

Mental health was a topic I found deeply interesting, and the accompanying trip to Yakkum Rehabilitation Centre was inspiring, emotional and very motivational. From the readings, I wanted to learn in particular how poverty affected the mental health status of the most vulnerable. Being quite privileged in my upbringing, I had never really paused to consider the mental health status of the marginalised. As Poverty and Mental Health in Indonesia mentioned, Indonesia is “a country where widespread poverty and deep inequality meet with a neglected mental health service sector”. However, the article stated an interesting point – that mental health and poverty, though often thought of as intertwined with each other, actually do not have a strong correlation with each other. This was definitely a pausing moment for me to learn that the amount of money people has does not necessarily translate to them being mentally healthy, and encourages me to be more compassionate to others. The field trip showed exactly this idea of compassion – from teaching people how to make coffee so they can stand on their own two feet all the way to the prosthetic limbs being made, the trip was something which definitely reminded me why I chose medicine as a future career.


Q: Were you able to learn about the Indonesian culture from this virtual program?

A highlight of the program were the interactive cultural activities. I never expected myself to be able to pick up the basics of Indonesian as quickly as I did. Being multilingual is going to be very important in the future, with increasing globalisation driving the need to be able to speak to as many people as possible. The cooking classes conducted were also beneficial. Learning the process of making choux pastry was very different, as I have never baked before. Indonesian cuisine sounds delicious, and I look forward to learning more about it in the future. Even though it was online, the energy of my Universitas Indonesia buddies and the friendliness of the Indonesian lecturers gave me a small glimpse into the joyous nature of Indonesian culture.


Q: How do you think the Virtual Public Health Study Tour will influence your future career or studies?

Being a medical student who has just finished first year, I did not have much idea about public health or about the Indonesian health system. Seeing the unique ways in which Indonesia has adapted to best suit its own health problems – such as division of facilities into Puskesmas and Posyandus – has shown me that the best solutions are often born out of creativity. The VPHST has thus shown me the unique side of public health, and as a future medical practitioner, has reminded me of the importance of being creative in curing patients.


Q: Favourite Indonesian word/phrase?

Terima Kasih! (thank you!)


Q: Describe your experience of the Virtual PHST in three words:

Interconnectedness, Inspiring, Eye-opening