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.


Impactful Partnerships: Collaborating for Severe Malaria Research in Uganda

Malaria, a mosquito-borne disease, poses an enormous health burden in Uganda. Severe malaria is a life-threatening form of the disease and one of the top causes of death for children in Uganda. For my practicum, I’m working on an observational study of severe malaria in children at St. Paul’s Level IV Health Center in Kasese, Uganda. The objective of this study is to describe the epidemiology of severe malaria among children in the Kasese district. We are looking at aspects such as incidence of severe malaria, treatments received at St. Paul’s, and patient outcomes 14 days post-discharge.  We hope that results may illuminate areas for improvement that will be shared with St. Paul’s and may ultimately lead to better care. The UNC – MUST – PHEALED Consortium, a strong collaborative partnership that has been working and implementing projects in the Bugoye area for several years, leads this study in collaboration with St. Paul’s Health Center. 


I am personally interested in this issue due to seeing the effects of malaria in Cameroon, where I was a Peace Corps Volunteer for two years. During my time there, I saw first-hand the challenges with malaria prevention, and the morbidity and mortality caused by malaria in the surrounding communities. In essence, I was exposed to the realities of living in an underserved malaria-endemic region. Gaining an understanding of these challenges has motivated me to continue working on malaria.


I am lucky to be working with other highly motivated partners in Uganda on this study. I am directly working with members of PHEALED, the implementing partner in the UNC-MUST-PHEALED consortium, and two clinician research assistants at St. Paul’s. Despite collecting data every day, including weekends, the team has always stayed positive and remained available. There is an atmosphere of collaboration, combining the medical expertise of the research assistants with the research study expertise of the PHEALED study coordinator, project manager, and UNC team. Working alongside them has been an absolute pleasure.

Views while hiking up a hill near Bugoye.


Outside of work at St. Paul’s, I have the pleasure of staying in Bugoye, a beautiful village located at the foothills of the Rwenzori Mountains. There is superb Arabica coffee grown between 1500m and 2000m of altitude in these hills, and I enjoy amazing Ugandan tea each morning with breakfast. Working in the office with PHEALED staff is filled with relationship-building and laughter that breaks up long days of work. Additionally, the Bugoye community is very friendly and welcoming. When I go hiking or jogging, I usually end up with a trail of 10-20 children who join me for a while, giggling the whole way. While hiking up a local hill, four little girls ran up after me to give me a piece of jackfruit. Living in Bugoye is filled with joyful moments like these.


Although working on this study and seeing severely ill children at the health center is very challenging, I’m incredibly grateful to contribute, even in a small way, to hopefully improving care and outcomes for children with severe malaria in the future. These challenges are contrasted with the great privilege of being warmly welcomed in Kasese and Bugoye, providing me with an opportunity to fully immerse myself in the rich culture of Uganda.


– Jenny