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The Human Factor – What Researchers Want

Do you remember the 2000 movie ‘What Women Want” in which an advertising executive played by Mel Gibson develops the ability to read women’s thoughts after an electric shock in the bathtub? I haven’t been struck by a lightning bolt, but I have developed some insight into what motivates clinical researchers in Uganda, both within the Infectious Diseases Institute (IDI), and at Mulago Hospital nearby, from one-on-one conversations we’ve had while thunder rumbled overhead and rain pelted down on the roof from the late rainy season storms.   Researchers here have an unquenchable thirst for knowledge, something that is often taken for granted in the US and Europe.     ●        On a personal level many of my colleagues at IDI are pursuing higher degrees, whether PhDs or Masters programmes, in order to learn new capabilities to better their careers. ●        On a clinical level, researchers are curious to understand the reasons behind conundrums they observe in medical practice.   In the recent past, before rapid diagnostics tests were available, national guidelines required any patient (particularly children) presenting with a fever to be treated for malaria; and before CD4 testing - measurement of the white blood cells called T helper cells that protect the body from infections via the immune response - was available in rural areas, patients would be started on antiretroviral treatment based on clinical symptoms alone.  It’s thanks to researchers in centers of excellence like IDI that today evidence-based point-of-care solutions are   available to better guide treatment. ●        On a public health level, very little is known about the epidemiology of a number of serious diseases in Africa.  Hepatitis B prevalence exceeds 20% in some areas but screening, prevention and treatment are virtually non-existent.  Cervical cancer and Burkitt’s Lymphoma are major killers but have been little studied here, and there are unexplained clusters of breast cancer in young women with no family history of the disease.  There are so many unanswered questions and so much research to do here!  Knowledge is power – the power to treat disease.  An important element of the research strategy that I am developing is how to attract, build and retain top scientific talent, by ensuring that IDI understands what motivates researchers and provides opportunities for knowledge creation.  I hope that I can help IDI prioritize and drive its research agenda, and attract the funding to address these areas of unmet need.

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