“Don’t limit yourself by doing what makes you feel comfortable” Celebrating Women and Girls in Science with IMR’s Marinjho Jonduo
We spoke with IMR’s Marinjho Jonduo to celebrate the International Day for Women and Girls in Science and contributions women have made in medical research.
For Marinjho Jonduo, working with Papua New Guinea’s Institute of Medical Research (IMR) is an opportunity to indulge curiosity while finding solutions to some of Papua New Guinea’s most persistent health challenges. With support from the World Health Organisation, Marinjho has been able to travel and connect with researchers around the world.
“There is a sense of satisfaction you get when you know you have contributed to helping your country through research,” she says. “Whether it be identifying the correct microorganism that is causing a cholera outbreak in PNG or an outbreak of a respiratory infection in a small community, correctly identifying what microorganism that is causing an infection or disease is vital if these diseases or infections are treatable.”
“To be part of a team that contributes to health research in PNG and provide information that may translate to action and guide health policies for our country is something to be proud of.”
It was only after completing her undergraduate degree in chemistry that Marinjho realized the opportunities available in the medical research field. “After learning about all the work that PNG IMR had done and continues to do in PNG to help improve the health of ordinary Papua New Guineans, I wanted to be a part of that movement,” she says. “But I thought you’d have to be a nurse or a medical doctor to be involved in medical research.”
“After I joined PNG IMR, I discovered that you don’t necessarily have to be a nurse or medical doctor to contribute to medical research in your country or elsewhere,” says Marinjho. “I started to understand how medical research could help not just Papua New Guineans but could also help other countries facing similar health problems to us, and in some way, contribute to improving global health. I started reading books on biology and molecular biology, I even bought a ‘Molecular Biology for Dummies’ to educate and familiarize myself with this field.”
“My journey from where I was to where I am now has come through a lot of willingness to challenge myself to do something outside of my comfort zone.”
Through her journey with IMR, Marinjho has attended several conferences and trainings with support from the World Health Organisation (WHO). “One of the most valuable trainings I underwent as a junior research officer was learning how to do cell culture (influenza virus isolation and characterization),” says Marinjho. “It was important to understand why the Influenza surveillance samples and data we send to Melbourne contributed to vaccine selection.”
“WHO’s support with these trainings and conferences exposed me to the world of medical research outside of PNG, and the impact it had on health policies, drugs and vaccines we use.”
Working with IMR, Marinjho is part of a team dedicated to building a healthier PNG. “It's amazing what PNG IMR has been doing in PNG and an honour to work with people who are passionate in their field of research,” she says. “Sometimes, if you’ve been away for too long, you will miss the welcoming hugs and perfume of freshly brewed Goroka Coffee,” she adds.
“You have to work with what you’ve got,” says Marinjho. “We don’t have world-class research labs in most of the IMR branches, but we do conduct research, produce the results, data and information that is of world-class.” Conducting this research involves working not only with colleagues but with communities. “It takes a lot of time, patience, and determination to get people in the communities to engage in the studies we carry out at IMR,” she shares. “You first must gain trust before you can do anything else.”
“Working with PNG IMR has allowed me to further my education, travel the world, meet people I thought I’d never cross paths with and build relationships with colleagues and collaborators that will last a lifetime.”
While sharing international experiences and data can help researchers avoid reinventing the wheel, it is important to know when a local solution needs to be found to a local problem. “PNG is a developing country, and it has many health challenges,” shares Marinjho. “Some of these challenges can be addressed by looking at what other countries have done, but some challenges are unique to our country, and we as medical researchers have to find answers suited to our way of life.”
Marinjho’s next challenge is finishing her PhD. She is in her 3rd year as a PhD candidate at the University of New South Wales’ Faculty of Medicine). Her research project illustrates Marinjho’s dedication to improving the lives of women in Papua New Guinea.
“My PhD research project is to investigate the prevalence of a group of bacteria that are commonly found in the urogenital tract of adult humans, particularly in pregnant women in PNG, and how these microorganisms - in the absence of STIs - are associated adverse pregnancy and birth outcomes,” she explains. “An average day for me starts at 5 am and ends at 10 or 11 pm, after a lot of reading and writing, testing samples in the lab and analyzing them, meeting with supervisors, and more reading.”
“Every day, there is someone publishing something that adds value to your research, so you have to be on top of your game,” says Marinjho.
Marinjho’s vision for the future of IMR and medical research across the country would see many more women and men being among those cutting-edge publishers. “The future of medical research in Papua New Guinea is to support early career researchers and promote health equality and equity.”
“For PNG to fund and drive its research, to investigate and address health questions that are important to PNG,” she says. “Also, finding ways to improve maternal and child health, to reduce the burden of HIV, TB, malaria, cervical cancer, neglected tropical diseases, and many other diseases that are crippling our growing nation.”
Reflecting on her career so far, Marinjho shares “It's been challenging but looking back, I'm glad I stayed in this line of work. I’m learning every day.”
For young girl’s who want to join this search for answers to the country’s health questions, Marinjho’s advice is to be bold. “Don’t be afraid to challenge yourself, don’t limit yourself by doing what makes you feel comfortable,” says Marinjho. “Medical science discovers something new every day and helps us understand our world better. It’s a joy to be part of a team that is concerned with improving the lives of our people through research and implementation.”
WHO supports Papua New Guineans pursue a future in medical research as part of the organisation's work to strengthen local health services.
Disclaimer: Marinjho Jonduo does not represent PNG IMR, nor does she speak on behalf of PNGIMR. Any comments or opinions here are her own.