Dr Susannah Woodd recently returned from Tanzania and reports on progress.
Thursday afternoon in a small, borrowed office with noisy air-conditioning in hot and humid Dar es Salaam. Asila is rummaging through a pile of small white cards. “Have you spoken to my patient?” She mentions the name. “She was really happy to be invited to join this study. She wants us to phone and speak with her.”
It’s the first day of phone calls, and the penultimate day of my 3-week stay in Dar. After months designing study methods, writing and re-writing questionnaires and turning them into a tool for collecting data on tablets, I can finally see the study working in practice. And, even better than I expected – women want to take part.
Despite the high mortality rate from infection at the time of birth, there is still little good-quality data on the number of women in Africa who get infection in the first place. Unlike a complication such as post-partum haemorrhage that usually occurs immediately after birth, symptoms of infection often develop a few days later, once the woman is back home. This makes it much harder to measure. So, in this new study, a collaboration between LSHTM and Ifakara Health Institute, Tanzania, funded by Soapbox, we will recruit up to 900 women at 2 large hospitals after they give birth and phone them one week and four weeks later to ask about their symptoms, and the care they’ve received.
My new team of 6 research nurses is working incredibly hard to complete this within the 3 months. But most importantly, the women are engaging with us. In fact, as Asila discovered, some of them are really happy to be involved. This is the point at which check boxes on a tablet become real women with real stories. Breast engorgement, an infected perineal wound, a tiny baby with a high fever. A visit back to hospital or to a private clinic. Antibiotics or reassurance. These are some glimpses after just one day! In June we will be able to share the bigger picture.