By Irene Tsey
[on behalf of Contextualising Lymphatic Filariasis(LF) Hotspots Research Team, DHRC. Irene Honam Tsey is a Research Officer & Institutional Review Board Administrator at DHRC]
“This was my second time to the Western Region as well as on the field for data collection. Interestingly, I cannot believe the depth of information and knowledge gained from this trip when some years back at the same place I could not even dream of putting together this piece. I am so grateful for my experience in DHRC”
It was a long trip of about 320km and we got to our final destination almost at midnight after setting off late in the morning of that same day from Dodowa. Although very tired and not knowing exactly where to spend the night we encouraged ourselves with humour. We made jokes from previous experiences. We spent ten days in the field and learnt first-hand the importance of involving community leaders or gatekeepers through the support of other key stakeholders and the need to sometimes adjust to uncomfortable situations for successful Community Entry and data collection.
WHAT LESSONS DID WE LEARN?
The Need to Identify Key Stakeholders
It is very important to know the relevant stakeholders needed for your study to avoid unnecessary delays. Upon arriving in the first district the team’s first point of call was the District Health Administration. The team met the officer acting on behalf of the director and upon briefing him and others about the study the team was handed over to the officer involved which in this case was the Disease Control Officer. This officer had the data on all the communities involved in the MDAs which she willingly handed over to the team. She was also able to delegate a field technician (FT) involved with the MDA programmes and working with the Community Drug Distributers (CDDs) to assist us in reaching the CDDs. The FT further led us to the various community leaders and also introduced us to some available and hardworking CDDs in the communities. Having support from the relevant stakeholders on the ground who are already known in the communities through their various engagements; made it easy to reach the other stakeholders who in this case are the community leaders. The team was warmly received and granted permission to go ahead with data collection.
Need to Understand and Respect the Cultural/Social Context of your Research Community
Our first community was Muslim and the FT in the person of Jonathan advised us to dress appropriately. Based on this piece of advice, some of the team covered their heads and did not wear make-up. We also wore clothes similar to those of local women to bridge the cultural gap and make them feel comfortable in our presence. We left this community better and stronger than we came and ever ready to continue on our journey of conducting sometimes rigorous research.
Need to Adjust to the Context in which Data is going to be Collected
The team was excited to have successfully entered some communities and conducted some Focus Group Discussions (FGDs) and In-Depth Interviews (IDIs). Aunt Rose, a very active and enthusiastic CDD gladly accepted to help organise the prospective research participants and inform the chief and elders about our study and intention. The team, Aunt Rose and the Field Technician (FT) involved in the MDAs decided to seek permission from the community leaders before commencing interviews. It is an undisputed fact that final consent to participate in a study is to be given by the prospective participant nevertheless it is important to get permission of community gatekeepers which helps with community engagement. The team learnt that seeking permission from the gatekeepers made them feel appreciated as their authority and roles as custodians of their people were respected. The benefits for us on the research team, was that it made us feel comfortable and at home in these communities.
Most of these leaders expressed their support for our work and encouraged us. They highlighted that in the future providing prior notice before arriving communities would enable them adequately prepare to receive us and to also know more about our research. This demonstrated that it is not just about seeking their permission but also keeping them in on progress.
About the study:
Contextualising LF Hotspots Research is part of COUNTDOWN’s efforts to explore and identify strategies, for more effective mass drug administration to eliminate Lymphatic Filariasis, in the remaining districts with persistent transmission in Ghana.
You can see more of our work on Lymphatic Filariasis in Ghana below:
WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO CONTROL NEGLECTED TROPICAL DISEASES? PART THREE: ELIMINATING LYMPHATIC FILARIASIS by Linda Waldman
ANYONE’S DISEASE: ENDING LYMPHATIC FILARIASIS IN GHANA by Adriana Opong
A BED NET TO RULE THEM ALL: ACCELERATING LYMPHATIC FILARIASIS ELIMINATION THROUGH MALARIA CONTROL PROGRAMMES by Corrado Minetti.