Ethics & Engagement across the Wellcome Trust Major Overseas Programmes

Why i am in love with the field workers project.

There is an old saying that goes “behind every successful man is a woman”. But if I were able to turn this around, I would say, "behind every successful person is a loving woman, and a passion for what the person does". No other time has this been so true, than the period I have been involved in the field workers project. This has been the most exciting and informative period of my career…but how exactly did it all start?

As a former fieldworker myself, I have experienced firsthand, the struggle to get willing community members to understand even the most basic concepts of research before getting them to consent for research studies. Informed by the desire to fill this gap, my passion to work more closely with the community grew day by day. This dream came to pass when, KWTRP, led by two famous social scientist, Vicki and Sassy; established the now famous Community Liaison Group (CLG) in 2005 where I was relocated to work. As a field worker then, i imagined there was little I could do, apart from collecting data for scientists. Ten years down the line, I can only sit back and say, this far I have come!

A growing number of publications highlight the ethical dilemmas associated with fieldworkers’ involvement in studies. Fieldworkers are often residents within the community and have insider knowledge of the community’s socio-cultural, geographic, and community structures that can help inform sensitivities around research implementation. However, fieldworkers can experience tension between professional expectations to adhere to ethical guidelines, and the need to remain responsive and sensitive to cultural expectations and practices of their community. At worst, it can undermine data quality and, ultimately, the ethical standards of the research.

A bursary fund that Ethox awarded a small team of us at KWTRP last year, that aimed at looking at how research institutions in Africa support field workers to address the challenges they face; ended up to be an invaluable initiative around this area. Results for this project have been blogged before. Noteworthy, the interest and enthusiasm it has generated demonstrates the value placed on this initiative by key stakeholders, among them centre directors, departmental heads and field managers. Indeed, supporting and training fieldworkers to enable them address the complex ethical questions they face is crucial to data quality and the ethical conduct of research. Unfortunately, this area has received little attention in most research institutions.  

Over 25 managers from 20 major institutions in research across Africa who attended a conference that was supported by the bursary fund, resolved to establish a network of research institutions that employ field workers. Plans are now underway, with organizers busy soliciting for funds, to enable delegates to attend a second conference of its kind, scheduled to take place in the Gambia latter this year. Hoping the organizers will raise enough funds to support the conference, the workshop will endeavor to deliberate on the need to establish a common platform and a generic mechanism through which field workers’ issues can be addressed; and the experiences generated over time be used to advice on the most appropriate ways of supporting fieldworkers in sub-Saharan Africa. The success of this work will hopefully feed into ongoing work at research institutions across the region and inform appropriate and consistent support systems for field workers.

It is more than likely, that the success of this project will be determined by the passion the people who came on board have towards supporting health research field workers in Africa.

Views: 156

Comment by Maureen Njue on April 22, 2015 at 10:30

Awesome read Kombe. Wish you well with the work and I look forward to hearing about the outcome of the second conference when it takes place. Keep up the great work.

Comment by Elvis Moyo on April 22, 2015 at 15:23

You are very right Francis, very few research institutions have given attention to support fieldworkers involved in a wide range of studies. We would like to  take this challenge to at least make a difference on how Fieldworkers are managed here at MLW.  Your work  which has focused much on Fieldworkers is greatly appreciated because  it has led to project on fieldworkers here at  Malawi Liverpool Wellcome Trust.

Comment by Miliswa Magongo on April 22, 2015 at 16:40
Your story about how far you have come is very inspiring. Well done for all that you have achieved. Fieldworkers play a very fundamental role in research so it nice to read about such positive and empowering initiatives meant for them. Wishing you and your team all the best.
Comment by Francis Kombe on April 22, 2015 at 18:42

Dear Maureen, Elvis and Miliswa,

Thank you very much for taking time to read the blog, i find this topic touching on the very core of what my heart desires. Miliswa, i am happy to hear the blog inspired you

Comment by Paulina Tindana on April 28, 2015 at 11:10

Great piece, Kombe!! I hope many of our research institutions will give fieldworkers the attention and support they truly deserve. We still have a long way to go and projects like yours will definitely make a huge contribution. Keep it up. 


Comment by Francis Kombe on April 28, 2015 at 11:23

Hi Paulina,

Thank you very much Paulina. I truly hope hope FWs will be given the attention they deserve.

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