Health informatics graduate fighting aids in Africa
2 September 2009
Australian health informatics consultant Nilva Egana is set to deploy her world-class expertise in the fight against AIDS.
|A University of Sydney Master of Health Informatics graduate, Egana left for South Africa in August to commence a two-year involvement with the Global Aids Program (GAP). The 44-year-old was awarded the opportunity after this year becoming the first ever Australian to secure a prestigious Public Health Informatics Fellowship from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the US. |
As one of only five successful candidates from an initial pool of 200 applicants, Egana now hopes to significantly improve the effectiveness of current AIDS prevention and treatment programs.
"HIV/AIDS in South Africa is a significant issue and to be able to contribute would be fantastic," she says. "I really wanted to be involved in this project because it involves up-skilling the local people. I'll be working there for up to three-months at a time and looking at ways to improve the interoperability between the existing information systems using health informatics to make the GAP program more effective."
Regarded as a rapidly developing field, Egana says health informatics plays a vital role in improving the quality of health services.
"Health Informatics is the study of health information and health information systems," she explains. "It's that interface between the clinician and the IT professional. It can help froma whole range of perspectives, such as improving data integrity and the way in which health data is stored and retrieved. It provides alternatives to the traditional ways of looking at prevention and control of disease." For instance, the use of Geographic Information Systems (GIS).
Born in Chile and immigrating to Australia in 1972, Egana began her work in the field of disease control in 1995 following seven years as an acute care nurse.
"I knew that I wanted to travel and that I wanted to do something that could improve public health," she says of her early career aspirations. "With the assistance of mentors one realizes the kind of career choices one needs to make in order to achieve that. That's how I came to public health and informatics, both of which have allowed me to travel and make a contribution to public health."
Closer to home, Professor Robert Steele, Head of Discipline of the university's Health Informatics department which offers the Master of Health Informatics,also says the application of information and communication technologies can make a huge contribution to healthcare quality.
"Health informatics is seen as a way of enhancing medical accuracy, patient safety and life quality while also addressing efficiency within the heath system, which are all critical issues," he says. "It's central to the collection of data and its subsequent analysis, and is expected to become increasingly important in the future as the trend away from paper-based systems to digital health information continues."
The University of Sydney is the only university in Australia with a Master in Health Informatics program and a leading health informatics research unit.