Accomplished alumnus presents findings at Australian Public Health Conference
Posted: 20 December 2019
Australia Awards alumnus Sanjeev Kumar Sahani from Nepal was selected by the Public Health Association of Australia to attend and present research findings at the Australian Public Health Conference 2019 in Adelaide on 17–19 September.
The research findings Sanjeev displayed at the conference resulted from his well-acknowledged thesis developed in association with his Australian research supervisor, Effect of asthma on mental health outcomes in Australian women with diabetes.
This thesis contains the first evidence that asthma negatively influences self-reported mental and physical health and quality of life in mid-aged Australian women with diabetes. It further revealed that asthma exacerbated depression and anxiety in these women, highlighting the need for support for practitioners.
Sanjeev attended the conference through the support of Australia Awards. He was joined at the conference by six Australia Awards scholars (from Bangladesh, Cambodia, Indonesia, Myanmar and Nepal), who were each inspired by his research.
Scholar Preeti Maharjan from Nepal, who is currently studying a Master of Public Health at University of Adelaide, was particularly inspired by Sanjeev’s work. “It is great to hear what Sanjeev has been achieving in our country for public health, drawing on the skills he built here in Australia during his Australia Awards Scholarship,” she said. “It has been good to connect with him; I feel inspired to also make an impact in public health, in my own way, for our country when I return.”
Another scholar from Nepal, Upendra Dhungana (who is studying a Master of Health Economics at Deakin University), was also presenting research at the conference. His research, entitled Depressive symptoms and antiretroviral adherence among PLHIV [people living with HIV] in ART [Anti-Retroviral Therapy] centre of Nepal, was a great topic of conversation between Sanjeev and Upendra.
Upendra mentioned that he was grateful to receive the opportunity to attend the conference through the support of Australia Awards. “It’s wonderful that we get opportunities from Australia Awards to supplement our studies like this,” he said. “Attending the conference has been a real highlight for me; I have appreciated the opportunity to take part in different professional development and networking activities while in Australia, thanks to Australia Awards”.
Sanjeev completed a Master of Public Health from La Trobe University in December 2016. His thesis was developed in association with his supervisor, Colleen Thomas, and research partners Leila Karimi, Jency Thomas (Primary Supervisor) and Wendy Brown.
An interview with Sanjeev
How have you felt about the opportunity to come back to Australia for the conference?
“It was a great experience. I felt honoured to attend the Australian Public Health Conference 2019, a national conference held by the Public Health Association of Australia, as an Australia Awards alumnus. I would like to express my sincere gratitude to Australia Awards for giving me the opportunity to come to Australia again.
The conference was a world-class 3-day event that presented a multi-disciplinary perspective on public health issues, and provided opportunities to exchange ideas, knowledge and information with international and national public health experts on the latest developments in public health. I enjoyed several interesting and thought-provoking presentations, workshops and plenary sessions on public health issues within Australia and across the globe.
Presenting my paper in front of eminent experts and interacting with them during my poster presentation to address their concerns and queries was an incredible and invaluable experience. Australia Awards gave me the opportunity build up some visibility in the Australian research community for my research work, which will ideally help my plans to pursue PhD studies in Australia at some point.”
What did you like about the conference?
“Firstly, the conference was full of high quality international and national public health experts, from early pioneers of public health in Australia with experience in a great range of public health topics, to novice and young public health researchers and public health advocates.
“Secondly, it was one of the best organised conferences I have ever attended, and comprehensively covered a great range of local and global public health issues.
“Thirdly, besides presentations from the well-known public health experts, this conference has also given young researchers like me—as well as emerging public health leaders and PhD candidates—opportunities to present papers, for which the Public Health Association of Australia truly deserves huge acclaim. Furthermore, this conference also provided ample opportunities to network and interact, learn, discuss thoughts and share innovative ideas with like-minded public health professionals. Events such as welcome receptions and the conference dinner provided great opportunities to connect with public health specialists as well as enjoy Australian culture.
“Fourthly, the poster sessions were spread out for 2 days, and the posters were installed for the entire 3 days. This allowed me to receive a boatload of feedback about my poster and suggestions on further investigation into my area of research from pundits of public health and a few of the postdoc candidates. This helped me understand how my project could fit into a larger thesis project.
“Lastly, this event also provided a platform for sharing a range of evidence, findings and innovative ideas in public health, as well as for making recommendations that can be applied to local settings and systems to help create and improve health systems for local communities to address the issues that the world—including Australia—will be facing 50 years from now.”
“I am grateful to Australia Awards for supporting me in capacity building, professional development and networking with like-minded public health professionals and world-renowned researchers.”
Did you make new connections at the conference?
“I was lucky enough to meet a few of the early public health pioneers in Australia, such as Dr Tony Adams and Dr Roy Scragg, as well as eminent and trailblazing public health experts like Professor Emily Banks, a public health physician and epidemiologist at Australian National University; Adjunct Professor Terry Slevin, CEO, Public Health Association of Australia; Professor Alex Brown, Leader, Aboriginal Research Unit, South Australian Health & Medical Research Institute; Ms Donnella Mills, Acting Chair, National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation; Dr Barri Phatarfod, Founder and Director, Doctors for Refugees; Dr Stephen Ducket, Health Program Director, Grattan Institute; and Associate Professor Gary Sacks, Heart Foundation Future Leader Fellow, Global Obesity Centre, Deakin University.
“I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to make new connections at the conference. During the coffee breaks and lunch breaks, participants were actively talking and interacting with new people, and I probably interacted with about 15 delegates in the three days of the conference. I am delighted that I got to make a few new friends, including postdoc students from prestigious Australian universities, government officials from the South Australian Department of Health, and Australia Awards recipients from different Asian countries.”
What did you learn at the conference?
“This event enhanced my knowledge base regarding emerging global public health challenges and priorities like climate change, obesity, cardiovascular disease, smoking and alcoholism. The conference helped me gain visibility in terms of how using evidence-informed policy, well-targeted programs and best practice interventions that are affordable, accessible, efficient and safe can ensure high quality health of citizens and allow them to live their lives healthy, safe, valued, and free of discrimination, exploitation and inequity.
“Additionally, I learnt how to make oral presentations concise and engaging for the audience and ignite discussions within the 6 minutes allocated by organisers. I also had the opportunity to expand my professional and personal development, and was exposed to insightful information and fresh perspectives that I would not have heard about within my organisation or online. Hearing about the hurdles experienced by visionary leaders of public health and the way they handled those challenges to achieve success encouraged and inspired me to think outside of the box when addressing public health issues in my local context.”
“I am grateful to Australia Awards for supporting me in capacity building, professional development and networking with like-minded public health professionals and world-renowned researchers. I am also hopeful that Australia Awards will continue to assist me with other similar opportunities that might come down the line.
“This event enhanced my knowledge base… it helped me gain visibility… [I] was exposed to insightful information and fresh perspectives… [and it] inspired me to think outside the box when addressing public health issues in my local context”
Sanjeev Kumar Sahani is a Nepalese citizen with more than 5 years of experience working in different national and international non-governmental organisations dedicated towards improving women’s reproductive health and ensuring their health rights. After completing a Bachelor of Public Health, Sanjeev began his professional career in 2011 as a Program Officer in Population Services International, an international non-governmental organisation working in the area of family planning, child survival, HIV/AIDS prevention and malaria elimination. In 2016, he completed his Master of Public Health from La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia, through an Australia Awards Scholarship.
Sanjeev is currently working as a Program and Research Officer (Advisor-I) for Ipas Nepal, an international non-governmental organisation working in the area of family planning and safe abortion to ensure the reproductive health rights of women and girls. Sanjeev is responsible for providing technical assistance, conducting operation research, developing research protocols and writing scientific papers. He is currently involved in conducting a pilot study to assess the acceptability and feasibility of subcutaneous depot medroxyprogesterone acetate (temporary injectable contraceptive device, brand name Sayana Press) among women in Nepal. This study is the first of its kind in Nepal and Sanjeev is leading its implementation.
His research and publication interests include women’s health, non-communicable disease, family planning and safe abortion. He has experience presenting scientific papers on family planning at national-level conferences conducted in Nepal. He also has substantial experience working closely with the government and other relevant stakeholders at district and national level for planning, monitoring and evaluation of family planning activities, and adolescent sexual and reproductive health activities, among others. He has been actively involved in designing, conducting and coordinating trainings related to family planning using a social behaviour change approach, including recent training for research assistants on formative and operational research.
Mr Sahani is a member of the Public Health Association of Australia and also an active member of the Nepal Health Professional Council.