University of Huddersfield researcher Devendra Raj Singh hopes that improvements in public health in disadvantaged communities will be the result of his international collaborations under the UK’s Turing Scheme.

Devendra recently spent two months at the Australia National University (ANU) in Canberra, where he found that his research drew parallels between health issues faced by Australia’s Aboriginal community and people in his native Nepal.

The PhD research aims to co-design an initiative to improve the delivery and uptake of free maternal and new-born health services in Nepal, where Devendra hails from Madhesh Province in the south of the country.

His PhD at Huddersfield is Devendra’s second stint of studying in the UK following on from his Master’s in health promotion and public health at Canterbury Christ Church University. He then returned to Nepal to lecture and lead on various national and international research projects, and in 2021 he began his PhD under the supervision of Dr Rajeeb Kumar SahDr Bibha Simkhada and Dr Zoe Darwin.

Targeting improved health outcomes for Nepal

Devendra’s journey through education in the highly-populated Madhesh Province saw him attend primary school and secondary education in a poor resource setting. He later won a scholarship to attend university in Kathmandu.

“I belong to the Madheshi community, which is a marginalised ethnic community, and in terms of resources it is one of the most disadvantaged in Nepal,” says Devendra.

Devendra Singh in front of a building Devendra standing in front of the National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health, formed in 2012 to bring together the different centres and departments researching population health at ANU.

“Thousands of mothers and children are still dying because of the lack of availability and accessibility of a good level of health services to deliver their baby. Nearly, fifty per cent of women residing in rural settings still deliver at home in absence of health workers, so I am trying to gain insights into how can we improve the quality of services and bring those women to the health centres.”

Within a year of starting his PhD, Devendra was one of the 12 Huddersfield research students selected for the Turing Scheme, the UK government-funded scholarship that allows postgraduate researchers to carry out their research training at international universities.

While in Canberra, Devendra worked closely with academics at the National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health at ANU, one of Australia’s highest-ranked universities, and he gained invaluable insights into the issues facing Australia’s First Nations peoples.

'A privilege to learn about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples'

“My visit to ANU has provided me with an excellent practical introduction to implementation research methodologies such as co-design, realist review, and policy analysis. But it was my absolute privilege to learn about the historical past, culture, and challenges of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in Australia,” he adds.

“I was involved in a realist review that focused on exploring implementation opportunities and challenges for health checks for Indigenous Australians living with chronic conditions I was also part of a research team that conducted a literature review on endometrial cancer among the Indigenous population in Australia as a part of a collaborative project between ANU and other Australian academic and non-academic institutions.

“It was my pleasure to also attend communication and research impact workshops, and doctoral student seminars which allowed me to learn about the research defence skills and the Australian Doctoral education program. I am privileged to have opportunity to learn from many esteemed academics at ANU.”

Making the most of a busy two months

Devendra also packed in visits to universities in Melbourne, Sydney, and Queensland, while also negotiating large time differences to coordinate meetings with colleagues back in the UK.

“I worked with colleagues from Bangladesh, Nepal, Indonesia and Australia to look at how health programs work when applied in different places, and what would be needed to bring about good outcomes and interventions. Sometimes one programme can fail in one context but works in another – why is that? Our different backgrounds certainly helped explore that.

Devendra Singh with some academic colleagues standing in a room Devendra is pictured with researchers from the National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health after he had presented on his findings at the end of his two months at ANU.

“I was overjoyed to bring together my supervisors from the University of Huddersfield and the Australian National University for a joint meeting to introduce, discuss and explore opportunities for future potential research collaborations between the two international Universities.

“The most admirable part of my visit was meeting with people from diverse cultural backgrounds with different research skills, exposure to unique work cultures, and traveling across regional and urban parts of Australia. This allowed me to construct my knowledge around strength-based approaches and it also helped me to manage time while working across multiple time zones, which is an important skill in the collaborative research work in the modern world.

“This visit was a fantastic experience and a perfect fusion of research, learning exchange, collaborations, cultural immersion and enjoyment.”

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