Meet Dr Patricia Rarau: PhD Alumni

Dr Patricia Rarau

Dr Patricia Rarau chose the Nossal Institute for Global Health for her PhD because of its reputation as an institute that strives to find solutions to global health problems. After completing her PhD in 2021, Dr Rarau is now a technical officer at WHO Headquarters, Geneva.

We asked Patricia to share her experience of studying a PhD with the Nossal Institute.

Why is Public Health Important?

It is disheartening to see the rise in hospital admissions and deaths from preventable non-communicable diseases (NCDs), not just in PNG but in other countries as well. I believe it is important to prevent people developing these diseases. As the saying goes, prevention is better than cure.

Research Title "A survey of non-communicable disease and the associated risk factors in three different study sites in Papua New Guinea"

Why did you choose your research topic?

Non-communicable diseases (NCD) and their associated risk factors are becoming a huge problem not just in the high-income countries but also in low-middle-income countries like PNG. PNG is an example of a country experiencing a nutrition transition as a result of economic, demographic and epidemiological changes.  Communities are being exposed to and have easy access to imported highly processed foods containing high salt, sugar and fat as well as increased and easy access to alcohol and tobacco products. The shift from traditional diet to highly processed foods, combined with reduced physical activity are factors contributing to the rise in NCD risk factors. Changes in diet, physical activity levels and unhealthy behaviours lead to the metabolic changes which include overweight and obesity, high blood pressure, abnormal lipid and glucose levels which further increases an individual’s risk of developing NCDs.
The NCD risk factors are more apparent in urban or peri-urban settings, however it is also noted in some rural settings. The cultural and ethnic diversity in PNG provides a great opportunity to study NCD risk factors in order to determine the prevalence of these risk factors in different communities.

What was most surprising to you about your PhD study?

I expected NCD risk factor prevalence would be high in peri-urban communities, but I did not expect it to also be high in the rural communities. This was the case for some of the NCD risk factors such as central obesity, raised blood pressure and abnormal lipid levels.

What achievement are you are most proud of?

Apart from simply completing the PhD and having to publish all three of my manuscripts? Most importantly the study provided a most up-to-date prevalence data in two of the rural communities (Asaro and Karkar Island) but the first ever prevalence data for the peri-urban (West Hiri) community.  Data generated from the PhD study provides a baseline data for future studies in these communities. I am proud to have contributed to generating such data for PNG.

How has your study changed your career?

I am now working as a technical officer at WHO Headquarters in Geneva. I am working with the NCD Surveillance, Monitoring and Reporting team within the NCD Department.  I provide technical support to global NCD surveillance projects which includes monitoring the global status of NCDs and their risk factors among adults and youths. My job is to support countries with their collection, analysis and dissemination of NCD risk factor data to inform and improve public health in their countries.

Final thoughts to share?

NCDs and their risk factors are increasing across the world and pose a huge challenge to countries economic development.  It requires political will and commitment from governments across the globe to act now to prevent and control the increasing burden of NCDs and their risk factors in their countries.

Dr Patricia Rarau has publish three papers on this topic.