TEKETO Tegegne's interest in maternal health began when he was 12, after watching in fear as his mother fell unconscious following a home birth.
She had just delivered her 10th child - a son - at home, as is tradition in Ethiopia and had lost a lot of blood.
"My father did not allow us to take her to hospital and was arguing with the community and with me," said Dr Tegegne, who is his mother's fifth-born.
"I was crying a lot and tried to convince some community members, even though I was young.
"I got support from my older sister's husband... he said he would take all responsibility.
"We got some support from the community and they carried her one hour and 30 minutes to hospital."
Dr Tegegne's mother and brother survived, but he never forgot the experience.
He graduated from the University of Newcastle on Tuesday with a PhD in clinical epidemiology and medical statistics, after spending the past four years researching in the Worldwide Wellness of Mothers and Babies program, which sits within UON's Centre for Women's Health Research.
"I feel very excited," he said. "It was a long way to reach this level, to graduate with a PhD. It was very challenging and there were lots of ups and downs.
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"It was not just about finishing a degree, it was more than that. I've now got communication skills, know how to manage problems and connections with many other people - it's very wonderful, even though there's been lots of ups and downs."
Dr Tegegne had completed his undergraduate studies in public health and his master's studies in reproductive health when he came to Australia in September 2016, wanting to research why Ethiopian women were losing their lives giving birth at home.
His research mapped the distribution of the population and health services in Ethiopia and found several factors contributed to service utilisation, including ease of access, education and cultural practices.
Dr Tegegne said his research showed some communities lived far from health services, but that there was also a lack of knowledge or understanding about the help that health services and practitioners could provide.
He said home births were often followed by traditional ceremonies akin to "social therapy" involving making coffee and porridge, which can't be replicated at hospital.
"There is a big gap between access and use across the country and big implications for policy and programs," he said.
"I want to see a policy change. Health services should be distributed equitably and there should be targeted policies about why the gaps are happening."
He produced six papers for his PhD. Of these, five have been published in scientific journals.
Dr Tegegne is now a postdoctoral research fellow at Deakin University in Melbourne researching heart failure, but said he and his family had relished living in Jesmond.
His wife Aynwaga and daughter Hana, now five, moved over to be with him in February 2018. The family has since welcomed another daughter, Tsion, in October 2019.
He said his three supervisors had provided him with social support.
"They were very helpful to me and good to my family," he said.
"One of them, we used to go to his house, they became our extended family. They were very very encouraging for me to be successful in my PhD journey."
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