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by Chiamaka Okorie

On October 24th, 2015, I spoke at the International Conference on Child Rights and Sight at Yale University and shared the results of my incredible opportunity to conduct research in Ghana. The conference raises awareness of children’s rights and blindness prevention. It was hosted by Distressed Children’s International, a non-profit child’s right’s organization I volunteered with over the summer. This was a great opportunity; I connected with other students and networked with attendees who offered mentorship. I was also able to learn even more about global health from speakers like Gopal Mitra, a Program Specialist in the UNICEF’s Children with Disabilities section. It was only halfway through his moving speech about advocacy for people with disabilities when I realized he, too, had a disability – he was blind. I was touched to have heard stories like his, which drive passionate people to create initiatives that combat health care challenges all over the world.

My research, “Perceived Susceptibility to Malaria: An Evaluation of Bed Net Usage of Ghanaian Mothers and Children Under Five”, took place over the summer alongside my volunteer work in Humjibre, Ghana with the Ghana Health and Education Initiative (GHEI). I was sponsored by BC’s African and African Diaspora Department’s Amanda V Houston Travel Fellowship. I knew that I wanted to focus on women and children, and explore a topic significant to the community I visited. I decided to investigate an interesting fact: in the villages of Humjibre, Kojina, and Soroano, the usage rate of insecticide-treated bed nets is greater among pregnant women than among children under five years old. I had two aims for my research: to learn about the perinatal education on malaria available to mothers and to determine whether increased attendance at antenatal care was correlated with increased likelihood that a mother and child would use an insecticide-treated bed net.

My presentation highlighted three facts. First, over 90% of women sought antenatal care at least 4 times – the standard set by the World Health organization and over 50% of them were likely to seek care in local clinics. Second, these women were at least 90% likely to receive anti-malarial medication during antenatal care visits. Third, GHEI’s community-based interventions, such as in-home flip-chart education, successfully led to high bed net usage rates: 77.1 % of pregnant women and 68.1% of children under five years old used insecticide treated nets, compared to 63.3% and 53.8% the previous year, respectively. The data demonstrates that the most attended source of antenatal care are local clinics, where women take advantage of the resources available and receive medication to protect them from malaria. It also demonstrates that the in-home support provided by GHEI led to increased net usage over among both mothers and children. I did not find significant data correlating antenatal care and use of insecticide treated nets, however I did notice how independently GHEI and the clinics worked. If both organizations are treating the same disease in the same community, I wondered why they did not work more closely together. I concluded with not an answer, but a different hypothesis: if non-governmental organizations such as GHEI partnered more closely with health centers like local clinics, they could create a system that supports mothers both in the clinical environment (through extensive perinatal education) and in the home (by providing nets and encouraging usage).

The opportunity for me to travel to Ghana has been beyond invaluable for me. I experienced grassroots interventions alongside GHEI, explored my passion for research, and connected this to the maternal and child health work I hope to do as a nurse. I was emboldened by the realization that as a nurse I can do both, the professional delivering of one-on-one patient education and the advocacy for systematic change. I know that this unique duality will be a great asset as I continue my career in global health. I have been so encouraged and mentored by the faculty of the KILN program along every step of the way. I urge everyone interested in research to begin reflecting on what field you are interested in, reach out to the faculty around you, and strive to immerse yourself as you learn!