Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Learning about cancer and its perspectives in Uganda


This is how we greet each other in southern Uganda. No matter who you pass on the street everyone is eager to greet you with oraire ota (good morning) or waasiiba ota (good afternoon). It’s hard to believe that it’s almost been a month since I arrived in Uganda. We first began by observing in local health centers and communities to understand the Ugandan health care system, identify the community’s concerns, and ultimately identify cervical cancer as the focus of our research. With this in mind we decided to investigate the beliefs and perspectives regarding cancer but more specifically cervical cancer in southwestern Uganda.

To better understand health in Uganda we have had the opportunity to attend lectures given by Dr. Anguyo on local health topics such as HIV/AIDS, nutrition, and family planning. While we learned the basic biology of diseases, the most interesting part was the social context. Learning how the complexities of health issues are deeply connected to the social norms, geography, politics, and religion was eye opening. Therefore, for our research we would have to also consider a bigger context of people’s lives instead of simply the disease alone.

After we developed our research tools we began to conduct focus groups with women at a local clinic. Through the focus groups we found the perspectives and ideas that people have regarding how cancer is caused, prevented, how it affects a person’s community, etc. I enjoyed conducting focus groups because it allowed me to see a diverse range of perspectives in a group dynamic. In the past I had only conducted quantitative research but after doing qualitative research with quantitative aspects I now see that I am learning more about each person’s unique story and culture than I would with solely a quantitative approach.   

To see mass cervical screening in action we collaborated with KIHEFO, also known as Kigezi Health care Foundation, to attend two cervical cancer screening days. The first took place in the KIHEFO general clinic. Through public announcements from speaker systems on motorcycles driving through town women were notified that there would be free cervical cancer screenings available. After intake I was able to conduct individual interviews before and after the cervical cancer screening process. It was intriguing to see if there was a change in beliefs and attitudes regarding cancer. In the individual interviews I was able to shine light on each woman's personal story and ideas. In the second day of cervical cancer screenings we were able to attend HIV/AIDS outreach at a convent in which they gave out ARVs. When one person in the group stopped taking their medications the whole community would discuss how they could help the person get better and improve their health. I witnessed that it takes the support of the entire village for each person to develop.

Now, we are continuing to conduct individual interviews in various villages with differing health care services available. We are traveling a bit around Uganda too, so I’ll leave you with some photos of our trip to Queen Elizabeth Park and Fort Portal.  


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