“CONSCOV Has Opened My Understanding. I am Now Thinking outside the Box.”

“CONSCOV Has Opened My Understanding. I am Now Thinking outside the Box.”

Health workers Emily Kayeny and Filda Anicia have found new and better ways of doing their work due to their participation in a research project at Gulu University.

For five years from 2016, Emily Kayeny headed Gulu Regional Referral Hospital’s adolescent clinic. Her work involved attending to adolescents’ health needs, with 75 percent of them visiting the hospital with a reproductive health issue. Even when she was moved to the postnatal clinic she still was attending to adolescents. With time, Kayeny’s job became less exciting. Then in April 2022, a new project began at Gulu University which would fundamentally change the way she thinks and works.

“CONSCOV has opened my understanding. I am now thinking outside the box. Previously I used to wait for clients at the hospital. Now I have to follow them to the community,” Kayeny says.

CONSCOV - Consequences of the COVID Epidemic for Youth Reproductive Health in Northern Uganda is a two-year DANIDA-funded Gulu University research project seeking to establish the extent to which Covid-19 and its associated lockdowns affected reproductive health among the youth in northern Uganda. It is implemented by BSU in partnership with Imagining Gender Futures in Uganda (IMAGENU), another project at Gulu University, also funded by DANIDA. 

Participating researchers from Gulu University include Dr. Agatha Alidri, Ms. Judith Awacorach and Dr. Julaina Obika. They work in collaboration with two researchers from the University of Copenhagen, Assoc. Prof. Hanne Overgaard Mogensen and Prof. Susan Reynolds Whyte. Health service providers are represented on the research team by Kayeny and Filda Anicia, the head of Reproductive Health Uganda (RHU) Gulu branch.

The team is collecting and analysing information on teenage pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections (STIs), post-abortion care and access to family planning services among young people in the region, particularly in Gulu City and the districts of Gulu and Adjumani.

Profs Whyte and Mogensen have made trips to Uganda not only to participate in the collection and analysis of data but also, together with their colleagues at Gulu, to train the staff of RHU and Gulu Hospital’s adolescent clinic in research knowledge generation and knowledge sharing. The health service providers say they have found this component of training in research, as well as their participation in the research itself, transformative.

Prof. Whyte (l) and Assoc. Prof. Mogensen conducting a training of health service providers in October 2022 at the RHU offices in Gulu

“The project gives me sleepless nights. We need to think of what to do in order to get the best out of it: How do we get information from the community, how should we get information from the adolescents, why are they not coming to the hospital? If they are not coming then we have to find them in the community. I need proper information. I need concrete information. And I am always reminding my colleagues that this project is here to build our capacity so that we can give the best services to our people. This project has transformed my thinking. I am now more ambitious,” says Kayeny, who is coordinating the project on the Uganda part.

“The CONSCOV research approach is very good,” adds Anicia. “We have conducted outreach to schools, rural and urban. We have also conducted community visits with different people sharing with us about reproductive health during, before and after Covid-19. Conscov has trained us in how to do community research and document it as well. If you don’t go out there you can’t know. The research component has helped me to handle my clients better. Research was my weakness. Here [at RHU] people step in for treatment. But, through research, CONSCOV has helped us to find reasons why things are happening the way they do, which is a good thing.”Kayeny (3rd left) and Anicia (r) during the handover in April 2022 of a copy of the CONSCOV MOU to RHU. Left are  Co-PI Prof. Whyte (in black) and PI Dr. Alidri (next to Whyte)

Dr. Agatha Alidri, the Principal Investigator (PI) of the project said they included health service providers on the research team because “they are the focal point persons dealing with youth reproductive health issues”.

“During the Covid-19 pandemic, they were overwhelmed. They were not prepared to work in a crisis situation like that one. CONSCOV targets to prepare them for future crises. We are training them so that they are able to give research-based services,” said Alidri.  

The research team is expected to deliver its final findings by 2024. Kayeny says that she is confident that by the end of the project, she will be well-equipped to handle similar or more challenging projects than CONSCOV.

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Building Stronger Universities (BSU)-Gulu is a multifaceted programme aimed at strengthening research capacity at Gulu University in northern Uganda