Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Wrapping up in Uganda - Chronic HBV infection research

Hi again, from Mbarara, Uganda! I am leaving for the airport shortly to return to Boston, and am sad to leave.

In terms of updates, I completed a week full of interesting meetings at MGH-MUST. From meeting with research coordinators in charge of other studies, I learned of the impressive commitment to research. We went on a UARTO field visit, specifically looking for a patient who had been noncompliant (as measured by the Wisepill). As part of this study, there are patient trackers who try to locate the patients at least twice a week, to understand whether the patient was noncompliant or whether there was an issue with the device. We loved being able to leave Mbarara and visit a nearby village, with a small trading post surrounded by large farms.

I also met with several important collaborators, including Dr. Yap Baum, director of Epicentre, and Dr. Winnie Muyindike, director of the Immune Suppression Syndrome (ISS) clinic. I was very impressed with Dr. Yap’s knowledge and expertise, and most importantly, his commitment to capacity-building. He quickly identified a student who is interested in studying viral hepatitis, and arranged for a joint meeting so she could become involved in our project. Dr. Winnie has spearheaded our proposed study, and it was wonderful to meet with her and discuss logistics (including study procedures, reserving temporary space in the ISS clinic, and working with the Voluntary Counseling and Testing Centre and the medical wards to help recruit potential patients). Dr. Winnie’s commitment to her patients is inspiring –- and I feel so lucky to work with her.  I am including a picture of the 2 of us, standing in her office at the ISS clinic.

Finally, my husband and I were able to see more of Uganda, specifically visiting Queen Elizabeth National Park and Lake Mburo. I am including a picture of myself in front of one of the crater lakes at Queen Elizabeth National Park – simply stunning. I am in awe of the landscape here – beautiful, lush tea fields as well as stunning lakes and channels. We were able to see several animals, including leopards, lions, hyenas, and a myriad of birds that I have already forgotten the names for.   

I feel so fortunate to have been able to experience this trip -- it has been extremely memorable, and I am looking forward to returning very soon.

Thanks again for reading,
Jennifer Y. Chen
MGH Gastroenterology and Hepatology Fellow

Mbarara, Uganda: A study to diagnose and treat chronic HBV infection

Greetings from Mbarara, Uganda!

After a 16-hour flight from Boston to Entebbe (via London), a quick overnight stay at the Karibu Guest House in Entebbe (with a fantastic breakfast), and a 6-hour drive, my husband and I arrived safely to the MGH Guest House in Mbarara.

I have been here for 3 days, and have had a wonderful experience thus far. It has been about 5 years since I have traveled to Africa, and I wish I had been able to come back sooner. I worked in Gaborone, Botswana in 2008-2009 with Dr. Roger Shapiro on a study analyzing birth outcomes among HIV-infected pregnant women, which was a phenomenal experience. So arriving in Uganda, I did not know what to expect.

After just a few days here in Mbarara, I have been extremely impressed with the research infrastructure of the MGH-MUST collaboration. My collaborators and I are hoping to introduce a study to diagnose and treat chronic HBV infection according to a simplified algorithm, and my main goals of this trip were to learn about the research infrastructure and to learn how we can best implement this study. I have met with the directors of the MUST Grants Office (specifically, from the Finance, Administration, and the Human Resources divisions), and found these meetings to be very helpful. With several studies ongoing, including the large UARTO study, it quickly became clear that this office knows how to effectively manage research studies – from budgetary concerns to hiring new research staff. Interestingly, when I met with James from the Human Resources Division, I asked whether they gave preference to applicants who had worked for MUST before. He said that although some principal investigators preferred this, as it reduces the amount of training needed, he prefers to hire individuals based on merit – as there may be highly qualified applicants who have not worked or volunteered at MUST in the past. I told my husband, “I can’t believe I have to go all the way to Uganda to find a merit-based system!”

Thanks for reading my first blog entry, and I’ll be back soon with another one.

Jennifer Y. Chen
MGH Gastroenterology and Hepatology Fellow