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Mariah Valdehueza

Beyond biology - the art and science of preventing disease


For Mariah Valdehueza, life as a medical technologist involves a lot more than labs and test tubes. This public health student takes her skills into the field – and it’s led to some unbelievable experiences.

Mariah, a 27-year-old from the Philippines, has always been passionate about helping others and getting out of her comfort zone.

“During the final year of my bachelors degree in medical laboratory science I worked as an intern in several organisations serving local communities, including the Red Cross,” she said.

“In October 2013 a 7.2 magnitude earthquake hit Bohol, an island province in our country. A quick response team led and supported by Disaster Aid Australia, went to Bohol to provide temporary shelters for families who lost their homes. 

“I joined a team of experts and volunteers on emergency response in setting up temporary shelters, distributing relief and psycho-social first aid. The overall experience allowed me to have direct interaction with people in the communities affected by the earthquake and understand their needs.”

Working in disaster zones

The Philippines is one of the most natural disaster afflicted countries in the world.  Just a month after the devastating earthquake in Bohol, Typhoon Haiyan, one of the deadliest typhoons in history, struck. It killed almost 7,000 people and injured and displaced thousands more.   

“I was part of the medical mission team that provided care to people who had disaster-related injuries and illnesses,” Mariah said.

Mariah on the job

“I saw how the abrupt disruption of health services in the community contributed to the fast spread of illnesses and deterioration of people’s lives. Most of the affected population had to live in camps with very poor living conditions, they had little to no access to safe drinking water and they received a limited supply of nutritious food, which made them very susceptible to many diseases. 

“The team was also faced with challenges like competing for scarce medical supplies and limited human resources that hampered the delivery of services. The extraordinary situation we faced during that time presented to me several challenges that, to my mind, are important public health issues.”  

Helping where it matters 

Following her first forays into emergency response Mariah worked in disaster relief and humanitarian aid across the Philippines and the world. From evacuation centres in Marawi, Southern Philippines to refugee camps assisted by Caritas in Vienna, Austria she has experienced first-hand the importance of health systems and appropriate health interventions during a humanitarian crisis.  

“My experiences prompted me to examine how I can use my medical background and my passion for health issues and advocacy to directly benefit people in the communities.  The lessons I learned in emergency response work led my professional path towards public health,” Mariah said.

“I believe studying public health will allow me to consolidate my experience in the field and help me gain a broader understanding of the role of public health in different situations.  I will gain insights into the different approaches and good practices in the field, as I study with experts and academics who have solid experience.

Natural disaster zone

Relief in Lanao del Norte after the Marawi Siege.

“I hope to bring to the course my own understanding of local community processes and people’s interest in participating in decision making to better their lives.  I can share concrete experiences to show how local people are important catalysts in bringing about policies that are relevant, up to date and life changing.  I hope that my field experience will be an ideal accompaniment to the excellent curriculum, experts and teachers at ACU.”

Looking to the future

Public health students are preparing to become ethical, effective health professionals who support innovation and can take the lead in a range of organisations.

“My career goal is to work on projects that support and strengthen health systems in developing countries. Specifically, given my previous experience, I would like to work in public health and emergency preparedness and response. I want to help strengthen the capacity of healthcare systems and communities to respond to health emergencies during crisis situations like natural and manmade disasters. I could also see myself working with the World Health Organisation or UNICEF. 

“As a new student it is important not to lose sight of this goal. And amidst all the pressure that can come from university I constantly remind myself that I am not competing with anyone but myself and that it is equally important to rest and unwind as it is to hustle hard. At the moment, I am enjoying my time in Australia.”

Mariah is studying a Master of Public Health at ACU. Find out more about studying public health.

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Impact brings you compelling stories, inspiring research, and big ideas from ACU. It's about the impact we’re having on our communities, and our Mission in action. It’s a practical resource for career, life and study.

At ACU it’s education, but not as you know it. We stand up for people in need, and causes that matter.

If you have a story idea or just want to say hello, do contact us.

Copyright@ Australian Catholic University 1998-2019 | ABN 15 050 192 660 CRICOS Reg: 00004G