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: Dr Ivan Namakoola
Role in INTE-AFRICA: Investigator
Where they are based: MRC/UVRI/LSHTM Uganda Research Unit, Entebbe, Uganda
Past role/job: Study coordinator in HIV intervention trials, medical officer in a city hospital
Who are you?
I am a researcher from Uganda, working at the MRC/UVRI/LSHTM Uganda Research Unit. Previously I worked in clinical roles at three different hospitals, before embarking on a research career. Would you believe I harboured the weird idea of wanting to study Medicine and then study Law so that I could turn and sue former medical colleagues for malpractice?!
I spent my early years in HIV research with satisfying outcomes like decentralising antiretroviral drug therapy from the general hospitals down to the primary health facilities
How has your journey helped you lead to this point in your career?
First, I think I got bitten by the science bug, way back in high school. I even dropped history as a subject as my mind was made up to pursue the sciences. Fast forward I was now a doctor, working in an environment that tended to want certainty like quickly progressing through a clinical history to a diagnosis and treatment that helped reduce a patient’s suffering. Exposure to some researchers in this setting changed my mindset to think like scientists, who had a tendency of liking uncertainty, preferring to wander off beyond the boundaries of what is known and doing so experimentally so that there was an individual and corporate check on what was hypothesized or thought to be true. I did an MSc in Clinical Trials from the LSHTM, to hone my skillset in doing research. I spent my early years in HIV research with satisfying outcomes like decentralising antiretroviral drug therapy from the general hospitals down to the primary health facilities, which became national policy, and our study site research findings were translated into the universal test-and-treat policy for HIV. Research in NCD is the new frontier as the burden of NCDs may now be equal or even greater than that of communicable diseases. And here we are.
Would you believe I harboured the weird idea of wanting to study Medicine and then study Law so that I could turn and sue former medical colleagues for malpractice?!
How did you initially get involved in research?
Someone once said that advances are made by answering questions and discoveries by asking them. Clinical research is about advances. As a student, I used to enjoy my public health lectures. Once during a module on ethics in research, it dawned on me that there were some “rotten apples” around me who instead of doing fieldwork, opted to sit in their rooms and cook up datasets just to pass exams. I vowed that becoming a scientist required early career discipline in the interest of long term job satisfaction.
Research in NCD is the new frontier as the burden of NCDs may now be equal or even greater than that of communicable diseases
How has the field of integrated care, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, been changing?
Africans are susceptible to the three big killer diseases on the continent: malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS. Strides have been made in the field of integrated care, to improve outcomes of persons with these conditions. Like I said NCDs are the new frontier with their ever-increasing burden. Models of integrated chronic care are being tested in sub-Saharan Africa and these have highlighted ethical issues of integrated chronic care, and the gaps in the healthcare policies to deliver this care. These ethical issues and gaps need to be addressed pre-emptively for concise policy development towards integrated care.
What areas of HIV and NCD research and/or project management do you think are being neglected?
The number of patients in chronic care is dismal and the burden of NCDs in the community is unquantified. A neglected aspect is the strengthening of an uncompromised health care system to make it effective and efficient for both urban and rural settings. I think primary health care remains the best answer to chronic disease as it provides the basic preventive strategies that can render the system cheaper.
What do you hope to do in your role and as a member of the RESPOND-AFRICA consortium?
I hope to contribute to the consortium by delivering on the science in a way that positively impacts the communities we are engaged.
Besides research and randomised control trials, what do you enjoy doing?
I enjoy adventurous cooking, the kind of recipes seen on TikTok and YouTube, and translating it into my own version. I am a natural weight loss enthusiast, my INTEAFRICA profile picture would be jealous of the new me if we met.