Nadia Koyratty, an Epidemiology PhD student, writes about her travels to Zimbabwe and her experience with a randomized community-based trial called the Sanitation Hygiene Infant Feedin Efficacy (SHINE) project.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, globally trends in stunting and wasting have been decreasing. However, with nearly 821 million hungry people, eradication all forms of hunger by 2030 remains an elusive goal. Zimbabwe is among the most food insecure countries on the African continent, with nearly 45% of children under 5 years being malnourished. Due to financial instability and climate change effects, achieving food security seems to be an especially complicated journey.
Thanks in part to the support from UB’s School of Public Health and Health Professions’ (SPHHP) Office of Global Health Initiative (OGHI) and my mentor, Dr. Laura Smith from the Department of Epidemiology and Environmental Health (EEH), I was able to travel to Zimbabwe to explore the Sanitation Hygiene Infant Feeding Efficacy (SHINE) project (ClinicalTrials.gov NCT01824940). SHINE was a randomized community-based trial with the aim to improve infant and young child feeding (IYCF) and sanitation, water and hygiene (WASH) in rural Zimbabwe. The primary goal of my visit to Zimbabwe was to meet field researchers and gain a thorough understanding of the data collection and management process in preparation for data analysis and publication.
As planned, I did achieve my objectives of learning from the experts at Zvitambo Institute for Maternal and Child Health Research by working with laboratory technicians on biological assays,with the staff in charge of data entry and the statisticians for data analyses. However, I got so much more out of the trip than I expected! I was able to go to Shurugwi, one of the SHINE study districts, with other field researchers. Without interacting with colleagues in Zimbabwe and going to the study site, I never would have been able to put the SHINE data into context and fully understand them. Since I also plan on using data from SHINE for my PhD dissertation, knowledge and appreciation of the context of data collection is essential to ensure appropriate interpretation.
Although the SHINE study is over and data collection for the main trial has been discontinued, I was able to participate as an observer in a pilot study on depression among Shurugwi mothers. This visit was most fruitful and gave me some insight into the lives, livelihood and living conditions of rural Zimbabweans. For example, I saw the huge differences that exist between rural homesteads and urban houses, saw the toilets that were built for participants of the SHINE trial and their difficulty in accessing markets and water points.
The socio-political undertone of Zimbabwe at the time of my visit was quite fascinating to observe. I was in the country during the elections for a new president. It was interesting to hear people’s reactions in the weeks leading up to the elections and when the results came in. This contributed further to my understanding of the realities of the local people and gave me context into different development issues that the country faces. I also witnessed the cholera outbreak, and had the opportunity to follow the management of the outbreak by local and international organizations through the media. I feel that these exposures have influenced my professional and personal insights in very unique ways.
A travel opportunity such as this one, supported by OGHI and EEH, is indeed a gateway to discovery and understanding. It was not always easy or comfortable, but I came back with a renewed sense of purpose. In terms of a global health field experience, my trip to Zimbabwe has been enriching and eye-opening. In addition to achieving the aims I had set, I also discovered a beautiful country, and in the process made friends with some outstanding individuals.