Public health in Palau

StudentSpeak is pleased to share this guest post from M.P.H. candidate, Holly Lee, B.S.N., R.N. Holly is working abroad this summer in the Republic of Palau thanks in part to a summer travel scholarship and the OHSU Global Health Center.

Holly (left) with her friend and focus group colleague, Rus Kotaro (right).

My summer has been amazing! I am about halfway through an internship with the Ministry of Health in the Republic of Palau. Palau is a country made up of about 300 islands located north of Papua New Guinea, southeast of the Philippines and south of Guam. The main island is the state of Koror where I have been living and working.

I am working with Dr. Haley Cash, an epidemiologist at the Health Policy, Research, and Development office. I have been putting together a qualitative research project studying perceptions of pre-teens, teens and parents on underage drinking. There are high rates of binge drinking on the islands by both adults and teens. According to the Tobacco and Alcohol Secretariat of the Pacific Community, alcohol is considered the leading risk factor for disease burden in the Western Pacific, where Palau is located. The focus groups will provide insight into why Palauans think drinking rates are so high and explore their ideas for solutions.

Traditional Bai meeting house

After finalizing consent forms and planning focus group recruitment with my Palauan colleagues, we sat down together and analyzed the focus group questions. We adjusted each question so it was both culturally and age appropriate. Sometimes this meant changing a couple of words of the question and other times it meant we had to discuss how we could ask the question in a different way entirely. This was a great collaborative learning experience. After working through the questions, we discussed the importance of having a Palauan join me in leading the focus groups.

Rucian Kotaro, a Palauan public health worker with the behavior health unit took on the role of lead facilitator with my support. She was a vital part of this project and I can’t thank her and the behavioral health team enough for their partnership. In total we had 29 participants in four focus groups. Each group was unique but we also noticed themes connecting all the groups. I am looking forward to transcribing and examining the data. Once we are finished with data analysis, I will work on creating a user-friendly report of the data for both the Ministry of Health and its partners.

Visiting the Rock Islands

On my weekends I have been able to enjoy the beauty of Palau. The Rock Islands, in the southern region of the island group, are a great place for snorkeling, diving and boating. My first weekend here I joined a group touring the islands. It was absolutely beautiful. I have never seen anything like the big and small mushroom-shaped islands that pop out of the ocean to make up this UNESCO heritage site. There are all sorts of inlets to explore and wonder at. We also visited Jellyfish Lake; a lake inside one of the rock islands where you can swim with thousands of jellyfish that do not sting. It is both beautiful and a little scary having jellyfish swarm all around you!

I am learning so much about what it means to do public health work in an international context, and I am having a great time as I learn!

2 responses to “Public health in Palau

  1. I visited Palau about 20 years ago as a keynote speaker at a Pan American Pacific Islands Nursing conference. Your post brought back warm memories of the people and the beauty of Palau (and the heat!). I learned and received ever so much more than I gave. I’m so glad that you are having this experience as part of your OHSU MPH!! I’d love to visit with you when you return to Portland.
    Thank you so much for sharing this post!
    Julie (faculty in the School of Nursing)

  2. I would love to Julie! Thanks so much for your comment! Palau is such a special place! Unlike anywhere else I have been! And such a rich rich public health (and nursing research!) experience I am having! I would also love to hear about your experience!
    Thanks Julie!

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