Outside the biomedical box of integrated care research. Meet some of our new RESPOND-AFRICA staff
The RESPOND-AFRICA consortium is made up of a range of diverse professionals from Europe and Africa. They are working on several different projects all aimed at improving health outcomes for people living with chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, and HIV in Africa. They are experts in unique activities that range from infectious disease care, non-communicable diseases care, project management, implementation, social science, or health economics. Have you ever wondered what it takes to be involved in a large global health program including multi-country randomised control trials? We have interviewed some of our new RESPOND-AFRICA members who are both on the ground and behind the scenes to give you an idea. Follow along in our series documenting some of our RESPOND-AFRICA consortium members!
Interviewee name: Faith Aikaeli
Role in RESPOND-AFRICA: Study Coordinator
Projects involved within RESPOND-AFRICA: INTECOMM
Where they are based: Tanzania
Past role/job: Health Services Manager at Médecins du Monde (Tanzania)
Who are you?
I am a mom of two, a wife and a researcher. It has been a glorious journey to this point. I am still a work in progress but I have already seen my dreams come true every step of the way. At the core, I am just a girl from a very small town who dared to dream of the life I have now even after being dealt a short hand in life. Sometimes I forget and sometimes it’s hard to see but what I have learnt from my story is not to be afraid to aspire for more and working hard. Life circumstances are not life sentences. I am still writing my story, I decide how big the next chapter will be, but without grit and determination it remains just that… a dream.
How has your journey helped you lead to this point in your career?
I have learnt to be optimistic, to trust my instincts, not to let other people’s opinion of me take precedence over my own opinion of myself. I have been fortunate to have a supportive family, who despite the odds believed in me and taught me to believe in myself. One thing I learnt from my father is to dream big, he never once told me I will not make it. He told me if you can dream it, you can have it. That all the hardships we were facing putting me through school would make a great story some day and encourage others in similar situations. My mom, well…. I am still learning from her to this day. She makes everything seem so effortless, but it takes a super hero to do and be all the things she has been to me and my brothers. I learnt my work ethic from her, she always tells me that I shouldn’t worry too much and to let my work speak for itself. All the valuable lessons I have learnt along the way, all the great mentors and my support system have played a key role leading me to this point in my career.
Life circumstances are not life sentences. I am still writing my story, I decide how big the next chapter will be
How did you initially get involved in research?
I worked as a research assistant in data collection when I was still a medical student during semester breaks, and was able to travel extensively to remote areas in my country. I got trained in both quantitative and qualitative data collection methods and had a chance of seeing researchers presenting their work in conferences organised by my school. I was intrigued and wanted to learn more about designing studies that were impactful and culturally conscious.
After medical school, I unfortunately did not get a direct employment to the NIMR and worked in public health programming for 2.5 years before I finally joined the institute as a study doctor. Then I got a NIHR funded scholarship to study an MSc Epidemiology from the London School of hygiene in 2019/2020. I came back to the institute and have been working as a study coordinator with Respond Africa since.
How has the field of integrated care, especially in sub–Saharan Africa, been changing?
Care for both communicable and non-communicable diseases of ‘importance’ have been provided in vertical programs dictated by funding interests as these programs are donor dependent. They served the purpose of reducing the morbidity and mortality of the specific disease targeted but the overall health system remained broken. The same patient would receive stellar care for one condition and none to minimal care for another condition in the same health facility.
Integration of care no matter the degree is a step in the right direction in reducing these disparities and working towards improving the health system in general and not just the care of certain conditions. Integration of NCDs into HIV programs is just the start, and I believe we are going to learn from this initiative moving forward. Research into the feasibility and effectiveness of integrated care, its scale up and further decentralisation to community settings would answer important questions and hopefully influence policy change.
What areas of HIV and NCD research and/or project management do you think are being neglected?
Current research on HIV and NCD has been focused on the general population even within the Respond Africa group. Key and vulnerable populations such as people who use drugs, sex workers, members of the LGBTQI community and prisoners who cannot access health care from the mainstream health facilities where we conduct our research have been systematically excluded.
Focusing only on the general population and neglecting the marginalised and most at-risk will result in these populations being left behind once again as with HIV research
As we demonstrate these interventions work among the general population, we should not forget about these marginalised populations. I believe any intervention worth adopting has to incorporate the objective of reducing disparities in health care alongside improving the population health as a whole. Focusing only on the general population and neglecting the marginalised and most at-risk will result in these populations being left behind once again as with HIV research.
What do you hope to do in your role and as a member of the RESPOND-AFRICA consortium?
As a study coordinator for the new and exciting albeit more difficult INTECOMM study, I hope to supervise the collection of high-quality data, help create a safe space for team work and learning for INTECOMM national staff and use every available opportunity to learn and advance in my career.
Besides research and randomised control trials, what do you enjoy doing?
I enjoy traveling, a good book, stand-up comedy, dancing, true crime documentaries and time alone with nature.