The second part of my time in Malawi was meant to be spent working on the second objective of my practicum experience, which is to help to create an interim report (“results brief”) for the partners, funders and key policymakers, using the study’s protocol information and the data collected thus far. Since mid-January 2018, the study team has been gathering data from participants who were referred to and/or enrolled in the national Prevention of Mother-to-Child Transmission of HIV (PMTCT) Program between July 2016 and June 2017 at 11 different facilities in Lilongwe district. The plan was for me then to work with the Head of the Analysis and Manuscript Writing Unit of the UNC Project-Malawi, to analyze the data and produce the report. The study’s timeline projected that all data in Lilongwe would be collected by May, and that after a couple weeks the study team would move north to enroll participants from the Mzimba South District. I would then work on the interim report and perhaps spend one of my last weeks with the study team up north.
After a slight delay, the study moved to the Mzuzu Health Center, a five-hour drive from Lilongwe. Unfortunately, two weeks later, half of the team had to come back to Lilongwe because as we crosschecked information and started data cleaning for the statistical analysis, we discovered that there was some missing data. There had been issues related to data collection and recording methods, and we would need to return to some sites. The study design proposed the collection of retrospective data on each woman and her infant from PMTCT enrollment through the child’s second birthday, but several logistical difficulties have delayed the team’s efforts. The challenges include reduced time to access the electronic medical record system and the lack of electrical power in the facility. Furthermore, in Area 25, the biggest site in Lilongwe, 307 Mother-Infant Pairs (MIPs) were sampled for the study’s nested cohort, but about a third of those could not even be contacted or traced because their location information was not enough to enable my colleagues to find them.
While that is being sorted, I have been continuing to support the research team with data entry and management tasks, such as quality control, tabulation of information and the improvement of different control tools used for the study. Towards the completion of my second practicum objective I have been working on analyzing some of the data with STATA and summarizing information from our study protocol to be relevant to our audience. You can see the first two pages of the draft results brief below. The report is formatted according to pre-determined design guidelines.
As my departure approaches, I can say that the last two months have been extremely significant to me. I have been able to combine my previous professional experience and my MPH knowledge and skills, and have a positive impact in very meaningful and interesting work. I now very much look forward to being back home (my heart is in Chapel Hill/Carrboro) to complete the program and to work with an amazing Capstone team for the next academic year!
My deepest thanks to the UNC Project-Malawi SOAR PMTCT study for hosting me, to the amazing Health Behavior faculty and staff who have been so supportive, and of course to the Research, Innovation and Global Solutions team who helped make the trip and stay here easier. I look forward to sharing more details about the study and my work during Practicum Day!
See you! Tiwonana!