Catherine Breen Kamkong

Catherine Breen Kamkong

Bachelor of Applied Science in Nursing (1993)

Deputy Representative, United Nations Population Fund, Cambodia Country Office

UTS Alumni Award for Excellence 2017 - Faculty of Health

Catherine Breen Kamkong is an internationally lauded healthcare reformist who once dreamed of joining Australia’s Royal Flying Doctors, and now travels the world with the United Nations helping millions of people access better healthcare.

Whether tending to refugees in Nepal or lobbying governments for better maternal, reproductive and sexual health programs, for Catherine, the dedication, hard work and rewards are the same.

“In healthcare you see the fruits of your labour,” she explains. “It’s why my mum became a nurse and my grandpa became a doctor. When I visited Mum at work I saw her making a difference for the patients every day and that was very appealing.

“The terrible situations refugee women endure during their pregnancies and childbirth motivated me to contribute whatever I can to make a bigger difference for more women and their babies.”

“A big lesson I learned at UTS was respect and empathy for each patient. It’s just a day at work for you, but it’s a really important day for that person and their family.” Catherine enrolled in nursing at UTS in the early 1990s when Australia urgently needed more nurses. Soon after graduating she went to work in countries even more desperate for healthcare professionals.

Early stints with Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity and with Tibetan refugee camps in India motivated her to study the politics of healthcare. Catherine wrote her thesis on the impacts of conflict and confinement for young refugees while treating refugee women at Sydney’s Liverpool Hospital.

“I was showing the women the birthing rooms saying, ‘here’s a bath, here’s a nice bed and here’s a ball you can sit on,’ and this woman laughed at me. She said, ‘back home I’d go by myself into the fields, deliver my baby by myself and come back’.

“It struck me the terrible situations refugee women endure during their pregnancies and childbirth. It motivated me to make a bigger difference for more women and their babies.”

Now Catherine is working on maternal health programs with experts like UTS’s Distinguished Professor of Midwifery Caroline Homer. In Cambodia, they have reduced the maternal death rate from 1,200 women per 100,000 live births in 1990, to 170 per 100,000 in 2014, by training midwives in emergency obstetric and newborn care techniques.

“Midwives really save lives. We’re aiming to harness as much support as possible so we can drop the maternal and newborn death rates even further to reach the UN’s sustainable development goal of 70 women per 100,000 live births by 2030.”

2017 Alumni Awards Catherine Breen Kamkong


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