Alumnus tackling infectious diseases in Indonesia

Chasing infectious disease education across borders

Dr Agus Simahendra is a Master of Medicine (Infection and Immunity) graduate who has dedicated his work to learning about infectious diseases with the goal of improving the health outcomes of his people in Indonesia and others in low-income countries.

After graduating at the top of his class from a leading medical school in Indonesia, Dr Agus Simahendra worked in rural villages with populations of less than 50,000 people.

“The first job I took after completing medical school was with the Indonesian Ministry of Health as a General Practitioner in rural Java and North Borneo,” says Dr Simahendra.

“I spent approximately two years serving marginalised and poor communities in an extremely resource-limited health setting to educate people and tackle medical issues.

Dr Agus Simahendra works at the International Medical Centre Hospital in Bali as a medical practitioner.

Dr Agus Simahendra works at the International Medical Centre Hospital in Bali as a medical practitioner.

“Most of the people I treated suffered from deadly infectious diseases due to limited access to basic hygienic measures and facilities.”

As a result of these experiences, Dr Simahendra developed an interest in infectious diseases and resolved to reduce the number of unnecessary deaths caused by malaria, tuberculosis and many other diseases among young Indonesians.

Infection and immune disorders are the leading cause of death both in low-income areas of Indonesia and around the world. According to the World Health Organization, more than 10 million lives are lost to infectious diseases annually.

“Deeply ingrained habits inimical to health like smoking, overcrowding, nutritional inaccuracies, lack of sanitation, and many other unknown factors need to be identified, challenged and rectified,” says Dr Simahendra.

After working for several years at the Bali International Medical Centre Hospital, Dr Simahendra moved to the United States and took up a position in a research university hospital specialising in internal medicine. He wanted to learn more from the experts.

“By serving patients while working with high-calibre, internationally recognised physicians and scientists, I was able to better understand the importance of medical research in developing best practice for patient care,” he explains.

Still curious about infectious diseases, and wanting to advance his career further, Dr Simahendra later decided to pursue postgraduate study by moving to Australia to complete a Master of Medicine (Infection and Immunity) at the University of Sydney.

Learning medicine is a lifelong process. As a physician-scientist, I see the importance of well-developed channels of knowledge exchange to ensure that breakthroughs in basic science can be rapidly translated into the clinic.

“Throughout the master’s program, I was able to practise my clinical judgement skills using state-of-the-art technologies under the mentorship of international leaders in the field. This is something that’s not possible in Indonesia.

“It also helped me to leverage my collaborative networks and to build interdisciplinary partnerships with other physicians, researchers, and industry to address health-related discrepancies in Indonesia and the wider Asia-Pacific.”

After graduating, Dr Simahendra returned to Indonesia and resumed his work as a medical practitioner in Bali. He is currently placed in an ambulatory care setting and manages the treatment of a variety of infectious diseases and immunological disorders. He was also appointed a clinical trainer to educate other staff.

“My primary role as an educator is to relay the knowledge I learnt while completing my master’s degree in Australia. I teach basic techniques in sterilisation, infection control strategies, and proper antibiotic stewardship to prevent antibiotic resistance and to treat commonly encountered infectious diseases,” Dr Simahendra explains.

Sydney Medical School alumna Dr Agus Simahendra

Sydney Medical School alumna Dr Agus Simahendra

“The knowledge that I acquired during my study can be widely translated into all communities, removing barriers as a result of cultural differences, backgrounds, and any social discrepancies to transform the lives of those affected by these ailments into a better one.”

In the future, Dr Simahendra would like to establish a clinical research group in Indonesia with international collaborators he has met throughout his travels. His continued ambition is to minimise the burden of infectious diseases and prevent the hardships associated with illness, which further entrench inequality.

In order to achieve this goal, Dr Simahendra would like to complete a PhD. He intends to move to Germany for this study and for other postdoctoral training to gain the skills required to nurture other researchers who wish to pursue a career in infectious diseases.

24 October 2019