Teaching sustainable research skills in Africa
This project is a 2020 recipient of grant funding from the Royal College’s new International Development, Aid and Collaboration (IDAC) program. This grant supports projects that improve health profession education and local capacity in low- and middle-income countries.
Health care professionals in low-income countries bear 25 per cent of the world’s disease burden, but they do it with less than 1 per cent of global health care professionals. A project in Africa called MicroResearch© is changing this, by training physicians and other health care professionals in the research skills they need to identify and solve their own health challenges.
“Health care research in these countries is often directed and done by researchers from high-income countries who lack knowledge of the local culture and context,” said Noni MacDonald, MD, FRCPC, a professor of Pediatrics and Infectious Diseases at Dalhousie University and the IWK Health Centre in Halifax, N.S. “MicroResearch is about helping communities find solutions for local health problems that fit their culture, context and resources.”
Founded in 2008 by Dr. MacDonald and Robert Bortolussi, MD, FRCPC, of Dalhousie University, MicroResearch has already achieved significant success in Uganda and Kenya. Through workshops, MicroResearch has helped local faculty in these countries develop research skills to teach and mentor health care professionals in a way that is self-sustainable.
For example, local faculty at the Mbarara University of Science and Technology in Uganda now run yearly MicroResearch workshops with local teachers and coaches. Kabarak University in Kenya has embraced MicroResearch training for family medicine residents as a requirement for thesis preparation. Local faculty provide all the MicroResearch training. Last year, their residents had the department’s highest-ever success rate for final thesis presentations.
“MicroResearch has been proven as an effective training method,” said Dr. MacDonald. “But we continue to face the obstacle of developing a collaborative network of African researchers, because their opportunities to attend regional and international meetings are limited.”
To address this challenge, the Royal College is providing funding for MicroResearch forums in East Africa: one in 2020 and a second in 2021, as well as a virtual network to foster ongoing interactions among the participants. These forums will be conducted by Drs. MacDonald and Bortolussi, along with colleagues Elizabeth Cummings, MD, FRCPC, and Anthony Otley, MD, FRCPC. Each forum will invite 20 to 30 MicroResearch physicians and health care professionals from Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda who have completed or are carrying out a health-related research project.
“These forums are about bringing people together to translate research into academic papers and policy,” said Dr. MacDonald. “It’s magic when people come together and share what they’re doing.”
MicroResearch is always in search of volunteers – especially coaches and reviewers. To find out how you can help, visit: www.microresearch.ca.
Due to COVID-19 and travel restrictions, a number of project activities originally planned for earlier this year have been delayed. Some activities have since restarted, while others are waiting for an appropriate and safe time to resume.