My Experience Contributing to Severe Malaria Research in Uganda

This is my last day in Bugoye, Uganda and as I look at the sunset over the health center framed by the foothills of the Rwenzori Mountains, I reflect on the past six weeks in this beautiful country. I have had the privilege to work on a study of pediatric severe malaria at a nearby Level IV health center for my practicum while also exploring some of the national parks and wildlife that “the pearl of Africa” has to offer. It has been a challenging and rewarding experience.

Mountains in the distance with an orange sunset in the background
A beautiful view in Bugoye, Uganda

We hit the ground running as soon as I arrived in Bugoye with work on the Severe Malaria study. Due to delays in IRB approval, data collection had not yet begun when I arrived, so I worked with the Severe Malaria team to ensure data collection forms were working properly, and to troubleshoot issues that arose when we began data collection. I’m grateful to be working with a highly motivated and friendly team, who are continuing data collection as I prepare to leave Uganda. While there were certainly challenges with starting up a new study in a new research site, the most challenging aspect of this work for me personally has been seeing the children with severe malaria when they arrived. Many children suffer from some of the worst symptoms of severe malaria upon arrival. Convulsions, changes or loss of consciousness, and severe anemia were commonplace. Some are in a truly critical state, and each instance I witnessed was heartbreaking. However, I’ve also been amazed by the miracle of modern medicine. Within 3-4 days of receiving treatment, it was not uncommon to see a young child who arrived in grave condition to be alert and playing. Seeing this incredible transformation from the dire state in which many arrive was incredibly heartening. Additionally, seeing the devastating effects of this disease up close has inspired me to continue working on this study through data analysis in the upcoming semester. This has been a transformative experience, and I could not be more grateful for all I’ve learned during my six weeks here.

I’ve also had the opportunity to explore the scenic areas that surround Bugoye. Among these incredible experiences, one day stands out as an absolute highlight – a challenging 18-kilometer (11 miles) hike that took us to a glacial lake at an elevation of 9,000 feet within the Rwenzori Mountains. Although this was a strenuous hike, we were rewarded with views of towering mountains, waterfalls, and the lake at the summit. Our guide, Michael, proved to be an invaluable companion on this hike. His extensive knowledge of the local flora and fauna enriched our understanding of the ecosystem that surrounded us. With an uncanny ability to spot even camouflaged animals, he helped us see two distinct monkey species swinging gracefully through the treetops. We even found a three-horned chameleon, a true testament to the region’s biodiversity. I also embarked on another excursion to Queen Elizabeth National Park. Here, I had the privilege of seeing chimps high in the treetops during a chimp trek. Moreover, I enjoyed a tranquil boat safari along the park’s main river, where we saw elephants, hippos, a baby crocodile, and dozens of different species of birds!

A green lizard clings to a tree
I had the opportunity to explore the scenic areas that surround Bugoye

My time in Uganda has not only been defined by the invaluable work on the severe malaria study but also by these unforgettable encounters with the country’s natural wonders. These experiences have provided me with a profound appreciation for the remarkable diversity and beauty of Uganda’s landscapes and wildlife, making my journey a truly transformative one. I’m looking forward to using this experience to influence my Public Health career in the future.


Reflections on My Summer Practicum with The UNC Water Institute

It has been a few weeks since my practicum ended with the UNC Water Institute. I am grateful that I was given this opportunity to explore the field of water and sanitation hygiene (WASH) in health care facilities (HCFs) and was able to connect with several organizations and WASH professionals during the practicum.

The key activities that I completed during this practicum included a grey literature sorting, systematic reviews of documents and document extractions, nine interviews (11 participants) of international WASH in healthcare facility professionals, and an analysis of the website. These activities guided my practicum products, which included a mini study and report of the website, and a compilation of WASHFIT modules on sanitation related studies.

One of the most interesting parts of the practicum were the interviews. The interviews conducted were to find out training and capacity development needs in HCFs internationally, and questions asked in the interview were based on the eight practical steps identified by the WHO and UNICEF to reach universal access to WaSH in healthcare facilities, such as conducting situation assessments, establishing national standards, implementing infrastructure, and monitoring. I found that many HCFs, with the support of local and national governments had accomplished situational assessments and established at least a national standard, with some HCFs developing individual standards for HCFs or within a specific community. A large barrier to moving forward with implementation, monitoring, and community engagement were resources available to be allocated to hardware and software needs. As the WASH sector grows and the need for services becomes more apparent, resources will need to be prioritized in such a way that they sustain HCF abilities to carry through the eight practical steps.

These interviews also shaped our practicum team’s perception of what tools and guidelines are necessary for advancing services in several domains of WASH and helped us create the WASHFIT modules. The modules included a summary of an intervention or study, the findings and outcomes, and any other information that was important to note about the intervention. The modules also included a visual of where each intervention was conducted, the details of the area, which included type of healthcare facility, geographic makeup (urban or rural), and included icons to symbolize what WASH components were included in the intervention. Once published and shared, WASH professionals may use these modules to guide interventions in their own HCFs and advance within the eight practical steps.


Navigating the Path to Impact: My Summer as a Research Lead for Qualitative Analysis with FHI 360’s TQLA Team

Embarking on a journey as a research fellow with FHI 360’s Total Quality Leadership and Accountability (TQLA) team has been full of learning. As the research lead for the qualitative analysis of TQLA’s impact over the years, I have uncovered not only the transformative power of their work but also the wide array of skills I continue to gather for my future endeavors.

Before delving into the invaluable skills I have gained, let me provide some context. FHI 360’s TQLA framework is a transformative and innovative managerial strategy in global health, championing quality improvement and accountability in HIV programs in several countries globally. My task over the year is to supplement TQLA’s quantitative evaluation by assessing the qualitative impact of TQLA’s work, a responsibility that comes with great anticipation and many opportunities to learn as an early career professional in global public health work.

First, I have had the opportunity to sharpen my data analysis skills. This includes developing a comprehensive interview guide for staff at all levels of the TQLA team. This process involved several iterations and that for me foreshadowed the needed patience in developing valuable and sustainable tools for assessing public health impact. Additionally, I quickly learned the importance of effective communication. I needed to collaborate with colleagues in Nigeria to ensure the analysis aligned with TQLA’s goals. The ability to convey the goals and objectives of our mixed-methods approach in a clear and concise manner is a skill that will undoubtedly serve me well in future projects. Being a point person for such a substantial project continues to teach me the art and science of project management. I continue to hone my ability to organize and execute projects efficiently.

FHI 360 prioritizes the professional growth and development of its employees. Through training programs, mentorship opportunities, and access to a wealth of resources, I have been able to further enhance my skills and knowledge, which will undoubtedly benefit my future career in public health. This summer, I had the opportunity to chat with FHI’s Chief Operating Officer, who shared career insights and encouraged me to build relationships over the year. Additionally, FHI organized a workshop for all interns and fellows that discussed what development work looks like and the skills in high demand. To put this into practice while I am on the team and to leverage my skills for my project, I am currently enrolled in a Project Management course sponsored by FHI.

My practicum was just the beginning of what I believe will be a year full of worthwhile challenges as I continue to build relevant skills. Onwards and Upwards!

Acknowledgements: Thank you to my team in Nigeria, especially Dr. Charles Odima for your support on this project.

-Sena Kpodzro