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Fiji celebrates baseline completion and holds randomisation ceremony

On Tuesday 26 November, communities and stakeholders packed into a conference centre in Suva in vibrant kalavata (matching shirts and dresses worn for celebrations), to hear about RISE’s research progress in Fiji so far, and find out which six communities will be upgraded first.

A transparent community event

Over the past year, residents have consistently and generously opened up their communities for RISE researchers to collect samples and build up a baseline picture of the health of the environment and communities. The event on Tuesday was an opportunity to celebrate this baseline completion and for RISE to share preliminary findings.

Dr Amelia Turagabeci (pictured top), Head of Epidemiology and Environmental Health at Fiji National University, presented on RISE’s sampling activities to-date.

‘This transparency is important,’ Dr Turagabeci explained, ‘because we have been very open with communities from the start of the program, and we need to keep people informed and engaged at every step of the way’.

Following the baseline presentation, it was time to randomly assign communities to the earlier- and later-phase intervention groups.

Randomisation – the scientific process of assigning participants to a treatment group – is usually performed by biostaticians at their computers, then participants are told. In RISE, Melbourne University biostaticians devised the coding methods allocating communities to different groups: 60 possible combinations were generated, assigning the 12 settlements into either the earlier intervention group, or the later intervention group.

Ping-pong balls match the 60 possible combinations for the communities to be allocated into the earlier-
or later-phase intervention group.

Randomisation – the Pacific way

With 60 ping-pong balls representing the 60 combinations, the Fiji team felt that selecting the ball should be in the hands of the communities.

A young girl and boy from RISE’s demonstration site, Tamavua-i-Wai, bravely stepped up to the task. Taking the stage in proud traditional outfits, RISE Community Fieldworker Savu Nofoimuli gently blindfolded the young boy. After a few tense moments of swirling the sand-filled jar, a ball was plucked out, with the young girl handing it up for the number to be read to the waiting crowd.

The number was 26.

Community reactions

After the draw, community representatives from each settlement were invited on stage to share their honest feedback on having made it to this point in the RISE study.

Community representatives from the earlier intervention group shared their relief and joy at being the first to be upgraded. Representatives from the later intervention group graciously congratulated the earlier group. Everyone expressed their gratitude for being part of ground-breaking research.

Local partners show support

The ceremony was just as important a day for communities as for RISE’s local partners – giving them a forum to voice their support directly to the communities and the program.

In his welcome address, Director of Fiji’s Ministry of Housing and Community Development, Mohammed Maqbool spoke about the positive impacts that improved infrastructure can have on peoples’ lives.

‘We are not interested in short-term, band-aid solutions to manage our urban growth,’ Mr Maqbool told the room. ‘We are implementing sustainable systems that are cost-effective to maintain and can adapt to changing needs as our communities change’.

Director of Fiji’s Ministry of Housing and Community Development Mohammed Maqbool said infrastructure
must keep up with the growth of urban communities.

First Secretary, Development, for the New Zealand High Commission in Suva, Sally Waswo.

What happens next?

RISE teams are already busy preparing for the participatory workshops with the first six communities, starting in early 2020. The intensive workshops will see every resident in each community invited to work side-by-side with researchers to plan RISE’s water and sanitation upgrades to meet their community’s unique needs.

RISE Program Director Professor Rebekah Brown thanked all the communities for their continued engagement with the program, and reaffirmed RISE’s unwavering commitment to the six settlements who will now wait to be upgraded.

‘To the communities in the later group, we know this is probably not the result you wanted today. But let me be clear: we have made a commitment to work with you, and we will honour that commitment. RISE’s success relies on all 26 communities – 12 in Fiji and 12 in Indonesia, and a demonstration site in each – and with your support, together we can take our learnings and successes to even more settlements around the world’.