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

Virtual Public Health Study Tour

Nethma Savindi Wimalarathne is a New Colombo Plan Mobility Grant recipient from The University of Western Australia. Savindi undertook the Virtual Public Health Study Tour in July 2021.

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

I participated in this course as I was interested in gaining a deeper insight into the true definition of Public Health. I am currently studying to be a doctor and from my understanding, a doctor studies healthcare at a microlevel, looking at individual patients, prescribing drugs to patients and conducting medical procedures. On the other hand, Public Health is how healthcare is provided and managed by the integration of various systems at national scale. Hence, I think obtaining a macroscale perspective of healthcare will broaden my understanding and give me a unique perspective for my future my career. Coming from a developed country such as Australia, which has an established health care system, I was curious to see how it varies for emerging countries such as Indonesia. I was particularly curious to investigate how culture and language influence healthcare and certain cultural and language factors are respected in the healthcare system of Indonesia. Hence, I was in hope that all of these skills would allow me to be a more informed doctor in the future.


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 for the VPHT. The NCP initiative is important as it strengthens the Australian-Indonesian ties and ensures that there will be stronger alliances between within the Indo-Pacific region. This ensured that financial restrain was not a factor that would hinder my ability to engage in cross-cultural programs.


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

One of the most rewarding experiences was the opportunity to interact with buddies from Universitas Indonesia. They gave us interesting insight into the health issues surrounding COVID-19 and Indonesia’s Public Health System. They gave us a quality internal perspective of what it is like to experience the health system in Indonesia and gave us a variety of real-life examples that were extremely insightful. In addition, it was great to be given an opportunity to communicate and interact with a lot of people from all around the world and gain a variety of perspectives as a result of this. In addition to that, the opportunity was obtain broad understanding of Public Health through topics such as COVID-19, Nutrition, Malaria, HIV and Mental Health was extremely fulfilling and rewarding.


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

Upon reading the handbook, I anticipated learning in an Indonesian context and culture would be very difficult to adapt to coming from Australia. Adapting to the language barrier was going to be one of the most difficult challenges. I am not familiar with Indonesian and hence getting used to the language and accents of locals as well as learning the language was going to be a challenge. Due to the intensive nature of the course, it was challenging to keep up with the content and balance free-time. This was facilitated by the exciting ice breaking activities before a busy day of learning and the contagious energy from ACICIS staff and buddies.


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

Some of the key observations I made was the importance of cultural and religious sensitivity when approaching health issues in Indonesia. Most of the issues were very deep and complex because of the other intertwined economic and social issues.


One of the key issues I was intrigued by was that Dengue is prevalent in low socio-economic areas. From the readings regarding Dengue, I learnt that due to the house designs and the materials that they are made of means that these houses are more susceptible to Dengue. In addition due to the poor sanitation and improper garbage disposal in these areas also means that it is an ideal environment for mosquitos to breed. I thought this was a unique and interesting perspective for the socioeconomic risk factors of Dengue. One of the other things that I learnt was the huge influence of religion in Indonesia. This was apparent upon reading the impact of COVID 19 and the important religious groups such as MUI and Muhammadiyah that have influenced the onset of coronavirus. However, it was only after listening to the lecturers and learning from the buddies that I realised the actual heavy impact that religious organizations have. I was intrigued by the fact that the general public respects and believes the information given by religious organisations as compared to other organisations. So particularly COVID-19, the information given out by religious organisations is much more influential on the general public as compared to health organisations. Hence, I learnt that in Indonesia, it is important for the government and legislative bodies to really consider this fact and ensure that it provides culturally and religiously sensitive information as well as working together with the religious organisations.


Q: What was your favourite virtual fieldtrip?

Due to the virtual nature of the course, the field trips were extremely valuable to gain insight to the reality of the health system in Indonesia, and attain deeper cultural understanding. My favourite Virtual Field Trip was to the first field trip to Kali Code. I was inspired by the initial purpose of the building which was to improve the quality of life by providing housing and facilities for people living in slums. Particularly, the effective use of space and the ability to provide facilities such as a Green park, open areas and greenhouse. It was intriguing to see the way people co-habituated with the river, and used it for activities such as fishing, whilst ensuring that it was kept clean.


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

Yes! I was able to learn Indonesian culture through the cultural activities that were part of the virtual program. These included; language classes, cooking class, dancing class as well as exchange of culture through interactions with the buddies. The language, cooking and dancing class explicitly allowed me to learn about key aspects of Indonesian culture. Although I anticipated learning the Indonesian language and dance was going to be difficult, I was able to pick this up very quickly due to the amazing ACICIS staff and presenters. I was also able to learn about culture through our interactions with the buddies such as learning the fun song Tepuk Semangat!


Q: Why it is important for Australians to learn more about Indonesia and vice a versa?

Although Indonesia is a geographically close neighbour to Australia, its culture is completely different and unique. Therefore, I think learning more about each other’s cultures will improve the ties between the two countries. The young people today are going to the future generation, therefore being able to work with each other collaboratively and learn about each other’s cultures will help to enrich the relationship between the two countries tomorrow.


Q: Did you enjoy discussing public health issues with the Indonesian students? If yes, can you describe your experience?

During my first week of the VPHT I found that the buddies from Universitas Indonesia were a great help. They really gave us interesting insight into the health issues sorrounding COVID-19 and Indonesia’s Public Health System. Particularly with the reality of the health system in Indonesia. They gave us a quality internal perspective of what it is like to experience the health system in Indonesia and gave us a variety of real life examples that were extremely insightful. In addition, it was great to be given an opportunity to communicate and interact with a lot of people from all around the world.


The topics that I presented were The challenging factors faced by the Indonesian Gov. in responding to the COVID-19 Pandemic in Indonesia and Are Neglected Tropical Diseases a Programmatic Health Priority in Indonesia?


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

Learning about Public Health has provided me with a broader knowledge into the health system of a country and it’s management. By learning this concurrently with studying Medicine, I was able to obtain a comprehensive understanding into Health. I think this knowledge will give me a good base into integrating Public Health into my future career as a doctor. It also made me extremely interested in being more aware about Public Health of a country.

Q: Would you recommend this virtual program to your friends?


It was a very comprehensive yet rewarding virtual tour in which I was able to learn a large amount of content in the short time of 2 weeks. It was also really exciting and fun, through the different modes of learning and collaboration activities.


Q: Favourite Indonesian word/phrase?



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

Insightful, Eye-opening, Valuable