Exemplary doctor and enviro warrior recognised honoured

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An esteemed doctor in the frontline of the COVID-19 pandemic and a budding conservationist have been crowned the 2021 Hobsons Bay Citizen of the Year and Young Citizen of the Year.

Dr Mukesh Haikerwal, local general practitioner and former President of the Australian Medical Association and Hobsons Bay Wetlands Centre volunteer Melissa Sheedy were celebrated for their passion, achievements and service to the community on Australia Day.

Mayor of Hobsons Bay Councillor Jonathon Marsden presented the awards at the Australia Day citizenship ceremony at the Williamstown Town Hall.

Dr Haikerwal was recognised for his invaluable contribution to the health and wellbeing of the Hobsons Bay community during the COVID-19 pandemic and his outstanding leadership and role in establishing the first drive through respiratory clinic in Victoria.

Dr Haikerwal first identified the need for ‘pop up’ testing clinics to deal with pandemics in February 2020. In early 2020, when coronavirus was starting to spread around the world, Dr Haikerwal demonstrated how a drive through testing site could work. The Altona North clinic was funded by the Australian government and evaluated by the University of Melbourne.

Under the leadership of Dr Haikerwal, the first GP respiratory testing and treating clinic for coronavirus was set up in Altona North in early April.

Managed by Cirqit Health, the temporary facility was for anyone with breathing conditions, including COVID-19, who were unable to be seen in a normal GP practice. The clinic could safely see up to 120 patients per day and, with the Altona North Medical Group, was recognised as the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners’ state practice of the year. He demonstrated the model to the World Medical Association – a body he previously chaired.

Following a surge of local cases in September, Dr Haikerwal coordinated a response with local doctors to implement a new contact tracing model, where GPs can talk directly to patients and their families without having to wait for the contact tracing team.

Through the respiratory clinic, Dr Haikerwal also provided training and employment opportunities for 40-50 young people and students learning infection control to support clinicians.

Dr Haikerwal is a former state and national President of the Australian Medical Association (AMA), Chair of the Council of the World Medical Association, an Enterprise Professor in the School of Medicine at the University of Melbourne, former Chair of the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare and is a current board member of Brain Injury Australia and the MedTech Actuator. He is a recipient of both the Companion and Officer of the Order of Australia (AC & AO).

Both Dr Haikerwal and Young Citizen of the Year, Melissa Sheedy, have a connection to the Hobsons Bay Wetlands Centre.

Ms Sheedy has volunteered with the Hobsons Bay Wetlands Centre for the last two years as a social media coordinator. Through her work, Melissa has inspired more people to care and value Hobsons Bay’s wetlands through engaging social media posts. As a result of Melissa’s efforts and passion, the number of people following the Hobsons Bay Wetlands Facebook and Instagram pages has greatly increased.

Melissa also volunteers on open days and workshops and participates in Birdlife Australia’s Backyard Bird Count at the mouth of Laverton Creek. She has also developed a nature treasure hunt activity for children to explore their local area.

Ms Sheedy is currently undertaking an Environmental Science Degree at Deakin University and aspires to work in conservation education when she graduates.

Before being heavily involved in the pandemic response, Dr Haikerwal was collaborating with the Hobsons Bay Wetlands Centre exploring ‘green prescriptions’; the concept of improving physical and mental health through spending time in nature.

Quotes attributable to Mayor of Hobson Bay Cr Jonathon Marsden:

“After such a challenging year, it is now more important than ever to recognise the acts of kindness, unselfishness and individual triumphs of our community heroes.

“Throughout the uncertainty of 2020, Dr Mukesh Haikerwal and Melissa Sheedy demonstrated strong leadership and a desire to help others.

“Mukesh Haikerwal became a regular on news programs to advocate for Melbourne’s west, particularly our diverse communities, contactless testing and a new local model for contact tracing.

“During lockdown, Melissa Sheedy reminded us of the beauty in our natural environment and value of our wetlands.”

Quotes attributable to Dr Mukesh Haikerwal:

“To be recognised by my own home community is a very deep and tear-watering experience as this is where I have lived with my family for 30 years and where we have been nurtured and supported through our working lives and raised our beautiful families.

“To think that some of what we have provided for our community has impacted people and their lives and their health is a high honour indeed.”

Quotes attributable to Ms Melissa Sheedy:

“I am so very grateful that my volunteer work is being recognised. I juggle a lot of responsibilities at once, including working full time, studying and volunteering, so it means a lot to be acknowledged.

“I love that these awards show that the Council and community really value the role of volunteering.

“I hope that with this award, our wetlands down in Altona can be recognised for their timeless beauty and that the critical role they play in our ecosystem can be appreciated.”

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