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PhD Defence

“Research is key to improving things”

Quote from Geir Gunnlaugsson’s First Opponent’s presentation during the Defence of CIH’s PhD Candidate, Justin Bruno Tongun.

Justin Tongun Defence
Thorkild Tylleskär, Justin Bruno Tongun, Lado Lako Loro (CIH PhD 2001), Bente E Moen
Thorkild Tylleskär


Justin Bruno Tongun is CIH’s first South Sudanese PhD graduate. Auspiciously, his Defence date was the Anniversary of the day when the Comprehensive Peace Agreement for South Sudan was signed, 09.01.2005.

The successful Defence was a triumphant milestone in an incredible education journey from war-torn Sudan, to Uganda, to Bergen – but always turning back to South Sudan. Tongun has remained committed to using his education for the good of his homeland. 

Justin Tongun Trial Lecture
Thorkild Tylleskär

Research challenges

Despite considerable logistic and methodological challenges, Tongun’s 4 papers make significant contributions to providing a baseline for studying breastfeeding practices and health facility practices in South Sudan.

Throughout most of its short lifetime, South Sudan has been experiencing civil war and social unrest. Good health care is not without challenges. According to the WHO, optimal breast feeding practice includes early initiation and exclusivity for the first 6 months. Together with health facility utilisation with skilled birth attendants, the two factors are the most promising interventions for improving mother and child health (SDG 3.2).

Despite the challenges with safety and infrastructure, Tongun has led a team of researchers and health workers through a research process that has shown simple and very positive results. Providing health workers with baseline information about breast feeding practice and health facility utilisation can significantly increase both good breast feeding practice (the numbers nearly doubled in before and after studies), and the numbers of health facility births.

Before this research, there was no information about mothers, infants, breast feeding, health facility utilisation etc. in South Sudan. Tongun’s work has established baselines that will provide the basis for further studies in this important area as the country stabilises.

Defence Committee
Thorkild Tylleskär

Defending a thesis

Tongun’s thesis was opposed by Professor Geir Gunnlaugsson, from the University of Iceland , and Professor Live Elin Torheim from OsloMet. The evaluation committee leader was Professor Gunnar Tschudi Bondevik, from the Department of Global Public Health and Primary Care, UIB. The Defence was led by Professor Anne Kjersti Daltveit, who acted for the Dean of the Medical Faculty.

Tongun’s research forms part of the Norhed SURVIVAL PLUSS Project.  His story exemplifies the important capacity building dimension of this activity. Tongun has been inspired in his journey by his parents; he promised them to take the “good” from his education back to serve the “good” of his country.