People and research for better health across the Timor Sea

Research is often thought of as happening in abstract, remotely in a lab or at desk overwhelmed with journal articles and books. Rather, like ocean navigators of old, our health research community chartered little known territory for the research and ideas they carried with them, connecting across the Timor Sea to explore and drive change in preventative care, adolescent health and non-communicable diseases.

With a research map made navigable by lead academics, universities and the Cluster management team, together 100-plus Indonesian and Australian researchers sailed onward, sometimes into the wind, sharing and influencing in their brand new ships of collaboration. They deftly navigated the challenges of researching across multiple time zones and countries, their research course informed by the landmarks of teenagers, communities, cultural context and language.

Young advocate Nada Alichiah, health researcher Hasna Pradityas from Smoke-Free Agents and Health Cluster Co-Lead Dr Susan Sawyer hard at work. (Credit: AIC)

Our research teams recently looked back on their journey over the last two years, and the Health Cluster is deeply honoured to share their heartfelt reflections on what they’ve gained from the experience:

  • A broader view of non-communicable diseases, importantly that mental health matters
  • Stronger trust and collaboration between Indonesians and Australians, built from face-to-face engagement and bilateral visits

The chance to:

  • share new insights and methods across diverse backgrounds and inter-sectoral fields
  • learn from and hear the voices of young people as active agents and participants
  • amplify research capability through a larger research ‘family’ and new friends
  • strengthen ‘digital’ collaboration in action with personal relationships and connections
  • share enthusiastic exchanges centred on improving the lives of adolescents
  • widely communicate findings and recommendations through publications, presentations and The Conversation
  • breakout of comfort zones, with benefits including securing funding for more innovative research than would otherwise be possible.

Awareness and appreciation of:

  • the similar NCD challenges faced in Indonesia and Australia
  • the value of a cultural-centred approach (culture as a ‘lens’ not a ‘tool’)
  • the value of a life-course perspective, with central value on ‘adolescence’ within this
  • the importance of primary prevention, early intervention and health promotion
  • the joys of walking.
The AIC Health Cluster at their research summit in Jakarta in September 2018. (Credit: AIC)

Our Health Cluster coordinated the journeys of thirteen projects, or the small ships that formed a larger convoy. Together, these voices amplified to raise the profile of the swelling undercurrent that is the impact of non-communicable diseases, and also the movement to fight them. Positively, innovatively and tirelessly, researchers created opportunities for children and adolescents to boldly prevent such common chronic illnesses as cancer, stroke, diabetes, heart disease, obesity and mental illness.

It now beckons us all – researchers, teenagers, teachers, administrative and government officials, NGO advocates – to take all this research, apply it and reap the dividends of better health and wellbeing for children, adolescents and young people, for their lives now and in the future, including in their role as parents of the next generation.

Christianne O’Donnell