Stephanie Wheeler was captivated by Cambodia when she travelled there as a university student in 2004. Today, she works in Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh, for the World Health Organization (WHO). As an Australian volunteer supporting the Australian Government’s Health Security Initiative, she gets enormous satisfaction from sharing her time and expertise with a country she first fell in love with over a decade ago.
Stephanie’s story began when she first moved to Cambodia in 2009. Since then, she has built lasting connections with the country. She first worked in community development projects in rural villages and in vocational training and support services for victims of human trafficking. Stephanie became interested in addressing health issues from a systemic perspective after her work lead her to a number of encounters with the local health system. She returned to Australia to study nursing and international public health with the intention of returning equipped with sustainable, transferable skills. ‘Public health completely fits with my way of thinking: a big picture perspective of the interconnectedness of people and the worlds in which we live’, she says.
What happens in another part of the world can have a direct impact on us wherever we are, and at greater speed than ever.
Now, Stephanie works with her WHO colleagues and counterparts in the Cambodian Ministry of Health to promote health security within the country. She supports Cambodia’s public health emergency preparedness and response, including detecting events, assessing the public health impact of these events and how to effectively communicate health messages to partners and the wider community.
‘What happens in another part of the world can have a direct impact on us wherever we are, and at greater speed than ever’, says Stephanie. ‘We are working to ensure that all Cambodians—from the growing middle-class here in Phnom Penh, to those living in urban slums, or remote-dwelling subsistence farmers—have the highest-attainable level of health. To be even a small part of this is a great honour and a joy.’
Stephanie is delighted to be one of Australia’s first volunteers under the Australian Government’s Health Security Initiative. Strengthening health systems is an important part of Australia’s development assistance program and this initiative builds on this work, focusing attention on health security risks and responses in the Indo–Pacific region—a long recognised hot spot of emerging pandemic threats and drug resistance. Strong and resilient regional health systems support productive societies and help reduce the risk to Australians of infectious diseases.
For Stephanie, this opportunity combines her love of Cambodia and its people with her interest in public health. ‘This role is great for me. I am learning from experts in the field and providing technical support to develop local capacity’, she says.