Outside the biomedical box of integrated care research. Meet some of our new INTE-AFRICA staff
The INTE-AFRICA consortium is made up of a range of diverse professionals from Europe and Africa. They are experts in unique activities that range from infectious disease care, noncommunicable diseases care, public health, project management, implementation, social science, or health economics. Have you ever wondered what it takes to be involved in a large multi-country randomised control trial? We have interviewed some of our INTE-AFRICA staff who are both on the ground and behind the scenes to give you an idea. Follow along in our series documenting some of our INTE-AFRICA consortium members!
In honor of International Day of the Woman (March 8)– we’d like to spotlight our very own researcher, Dr Anu Garrib, who is on the frontlines of combatting chronic diseases in sub-Saharan Africa and designing and testing methods to prevent chronic disease and integrate care for people with both non-communicable- and- communicable diseases, in particular HIV, diabetes, and hypertension.
Dr Garrib is a Principal Research Associate in Global Health and part of the RESPOND-Africa Group at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine and is conducting research in partnership with researchers in Tanzania and Uganda to better understand non-communicable diseases in these countries and beyond. Some of her research includes the MOCCA trial which preliminary findings suggest support for integration of HIV, diabetes, and hypertension care; INTE-AFRICA; and the largest clinical trial of metformin in people living with HIV with pre-diabetes (META-TRIAL) in Africa.
Interviewee name: Dr Anu Garrib
Role in INTE-AFRICA: Investigator
Where they are based: Liverpool, UK
Past role/job: Public health principal in what was then an NHS public health department
Who are you and where are you from?
I am a specialist in public health medicine from South Africa, and have worked in clinical and public health roles in South Africa and in the UK. I grew up and trained mostly in South Africa and have been living in the UK for the last 15 years.
How has your journey helped you lead to this point in your career? How has being a woman impacted this trajectory?
I was drawn to public health from very early on in my career, and was able to take advantage of opportunities to study public health within a research setting. When I wanted to start a family my choice of jobs was partly influenced by how they would fit in with family life, and I did subsequently take a break from work for several years. Finding a balance between career progression and raising a family is hard, and I am grateful that I was able to take time out from work to spend with my kids. Many women don’t have this choice, especially women in low-income countries.
How did you initially get involved in research?
My very first brush with research was, as an intern, being asked to collect data on numbers and outcomes of gunshot wounds at the hospital I worked at! Later, I was very fortunate to get a public health training place at a research site in South Africa, working with a range of inspiring researchers from all over the world. I began to understand the impact that good quality research can have on health policy. After that, research seemed to find it’s way into every job I had. I was drawn to research on non-communicable diseases as finding ways to control chronic conditions is a very high priority, with 2 million people dying from these conditions in Africa and many millions more living with health complications as a result of poorly controlled disease.
How has the field of integrated care, especially in sub Saharan Africa, been changing?
Interest in integrated care has grown significantly in recent years, as a way of addressing the increased demand for NCD care. The experience with HIV has moved chronic care forward rapidly and shown us how much is possible. Using the knowledge we’ve gained from HIV programmes will help us to move this forward even further.
What have you learned from conducting research in sub Saharan Africa?
Countries in sub-Saharan Africa are very different from each other. It’s critical to engage with local researchers, patient and civil society groups, policy-makers and health care providers to ensure your research is addressing questions that are most relevant to that setting. For me the inspiration and energy in this work comes from engaging with our colleagues and patients in Uganda and Tanzania and, more often than not, the answers to the questions have come from them too.
How have you noticed gender and gender roles impact research?
There are impacts on a number of levels – from the few men we find willing to participate in studies, to the gendered roles of staff involved in collecting data and, most encouraging, the increasing number of women interested in pursuing a career in research. There are still few women in senior roles in research, particularly in Africa, and the unique contribution and perspective that women bring to research is not always recognised.
What areas of HIV and NCD research do you think are being neglected?
The proportions of people who have non-communicable disease and are on treatment and well controlled are very low. Much more work needs to be done on finding ways of keeping people in care and improving access to the monitoring and drugs that they need.
What do you hope to do in your role and as a member of the INTE-AFRICA consortium?
Mostly I hope to contribute to our group having a positive impact on the health of the populations we are working with. I also hope to help the group grow and to support the development of research skills in the team.
What would you like to tell other women who are interested in doing research in your field or a related field?
Working in research is fantastically rewarding. Knowing that you are contributing to improving how care is provided or how health systems work, and that this may have a positive impact on a large scale, keeps me motivated. Although it is hard work and sometimes long hours, the flexibility and ability to work from anywhere, means I can find ways to combine work and family life.
Besides research and randomised control trials, what do you enjoy doing?
I enjoy craft of any kind, especially baking and sewing and am an aspiring crocheter. One of my favourite activities is a picnic on a sunny day with friends and family.