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Aishath Majidha Hassan: a trailblazer in the Maldivian health sector

Posted: 28 June 2023

Maldives, Alumni, COVID-19, Experience, Impact,

From a young age, Australia Awards alumna Aishath Majidha Hassan wanted to work in the medical field. While studying for her Advanced Level examination, she developed an interest in microbiology, and from that moment she knew that medical laboratory science was the specific area she wanted to pursue.

After studying a Diploma in Medical Laboratory Science at the Maldives National University (MNU), Majidha set her sights on completing her bachelor’s degree at an Australian university. At the time, there were not many higher education opportunities in the field of medical laboratory science available in Maldives. The high quality of tertiary education and wide range of courses offered in Australian universities attracted Majidha to apply for an Australia Awards Scholarship. In 2001, she successfully received an Australian Development Scholarship through Australia Awards to study a Bachelor of Medical Laboratory Science at Curtin University in Perth.

Arriving in Australia, Majidha appreciated the cultural diversity and the friendly and pleasant nature of Australians. She performed well in her studies and was among the top 15% of all undergraduate students studying at Curtin University in 2003. Even though her study was intensive, Majidha enjoyed her environment and being able to experience the different seasons and beautiful scenery, as well as travelling and visiting prominent landmarks of the country.

“The ability to mingle in a diverse culture has led me to become more aware of other cultures, as well as being more open-minded when dealing with people from different backgrounds,” Majidha says. “This is one of the many positive changes that occurred within me as a result of my Australia Awards Scholarship.”

After concluding her studies in 2005, Majidha returned to Maldives and began working as an Associate Lecturer at the Faculty of Health Education, MNU. She was responsible for teaching the medical laboratory technology course. In addition to teaching, she was also involved in revision and development of the curriculum of medical laboratory science courses. In 2008, she received a Fellowship from the World Health Organization (WHO) at the Department of Clinical Microbiology of the Christian Medical College in Vellore, India, which further enhanced her knowledge and skills.

Given the continual changes in the medical field, Majidha was then keen on completing a master’s degree to further expand and renew her knowledge. She was shortlisted twice for the Australia Leadership Award. Unfortunately, she was not selected. However, this did not deter her. After learning about the Endeavour Awards through the Australia Awards website and from a colleague who was an Endeavour Awards recipient, Majidha applied for the program in 2011 and successfully received an award to undertake a Master of Laboratory Medicine at RMIT University in Melbourne in 2012.

Majidha was ecstatic about receiving the opportunity to pursue her master’s degree in Australia, because she had had a fruitful experience with her bachelor’s degree, which developed not only her academic skills but her personal attributes as well. As part of her master’s degree program, Majidha also received the opportunity to work at the Australian National Enterovirus Reference Laboratory (WHO Regional Poliomyelitis Laboratory), which solidified her expertise in the field of laboratory medicine, including microbiology, immunology and molecular biology (her chosen areas of interest). Her master’s degree research project involved characterisation of a novel enterovirus (Enterovirus-96) displaying cell tropism. As a result, she gained expertise in virus culture and molecular testing. She also gained experience in phylogenetic analysis and had a brief introduction to homology modelling.

After graduating as the top student of her master’s degree cohort, Majidha returned to Maldives and re-joined MNU as a Lecturer at the Faculty of Health Sciences. In addition, in November 2018, she was appointed as the Head of the Department of Biomedical Sciences at MNU. Majidha also engages in research activities at MNU, some of which are conducted in collaboration with WHO. “Developing medical research is much needed in the country. Working to build the research capacity at the Faculty of Health Sciences is one of my main focus areas in the job,” says Majidha.

When the first case of COVID-19 was identified in Maldives in March 2020, Majidha volunteered at the National Emergency Operations Centre. She worked with the contact tracing teams, helping them to trace contacts related to the first case and handle other probable cases. At the beginning of the operation, the Rapid Response Team had very few trained PCR sample collectors, so Majidha also volunteered in that role. At that point, most people were reluctant to work as sample collectors, but Majidha’s example of taking up the role with the Rapid Response Team and dealing with COVID-19-positive patients encouraged her students to join the team too. However, the volunteers were not trained to take swabs and they lacked knowledge in some areas of preventing and controlling the spread of infections. Consequently, Majidha offered to conduct sample collection training for the volunteers and officially joined the Rapid Response Team as one of their core team leaders. As a result, about 95% of the team’s sample collectors were trained by Majidha. Her work additionally involved writing standard operating procedures and revising guidelines in accordance with WHO advice. Majidha also took part in two COVID-19-related research activities conducted by MNU in collaboration with the Health Protection Agency of Maldives.

Majidha attending to duties as part of the Rapid Response Team

Majidha says, “Australia Awards helped me gain an abundance of knowledge in the area of my studies. During my time in Australia, I made connections with experts in laboratory medicine, from whom I get advice and opinions to improve my work.”

Despite her busy schedule, Majidha makes time to take part in alumni engagement initiatives in Maldives. Since 2020, she has been serving on the executive committee of Maldives Australia Alumni, an association for Australia Awards graduates in Maldives, contributing to the activities it organises.

She continues to remain in contact with some of her lecturers, supervisors and past colleagues, especially the enterovirus lab staff at the Victorian Infectious Diseases Reference Laboratory. From time to time, she seeks their professional advice and expertise on issues related to her profession. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Majidha found it particularly helpful to have these links because she was able to communicate with the best professionals in Australia and gain important knowledge about laboratory testing for COVID-19.

Majidha conducting a sample collection training

Majidha is immensely grateful for the opportunities she received through her Australia Awards and Endeavour Scholarships. The skills, knowledge and linkages she fostered during her time in Australia are still valuable to her and support her to improve the work she does. Her Australia Awards experience not only formed linkages with Australians but also gave her the opportunity to connect with other Australia Awards recipients from Maldives who have accepted prominent roles in various institutions after returning home. These connections have made it easier for Majidha to contribute to the development of the health sector in Maldives.

“Implementing the skills and techniques I learnt at the university has improved the quality of my teaching, which in turn benefits my students immensely. Also, incorporating the teaching skills I observed from my lecturers helped me improve the delivery of my lectures. The knowledge and experience I gained during my Australia Awards Scholarship help me to contribute to MNU and the health sector of Maldives in general and truly make a difference in the country!” Majidha says. “I am grateful for all the opportunities I have received as an Australia Awards recipient. Thank you, Australia Awards!”