Pauline Bakibinga’s research
Dr Pauline Bakibinga trained in medicine, but chose to pursue a career in research after she qualified.
“My decision to carry out clinical research was the result of having an inquisitive mind. I also had mentors and an environment that made that decision possible,” she says. “And now, thanks to training provided by AREF, I have the funding I need to carry out my research.”
After getting her PhD, Pauline left her home in Uganda and moved to Kenya to focus on strengthening health care to help the most disadvantaged and vulnerable people in the country.
“The group of people I immediately identified as having an urgent need for better care is expectant mothers and new-born children,” says Pauline.
The worst areas are the slums – crowded urban areas where women have poor access to public health services. The lack of health care is compounded by security issues, which mean women are fearful of leaving their homes during darkness.
“These factors mean that many women stay at home to give birth, where they have no support if any complications arise,” says Pauline. “It endangers both mothers and babies, and death rates are unacceptably high.”
Where private health facilities in slums are available, they are not recognised or supported by the government, so standards can be very poor and staff insufficiently trained.
“I believe this is something we can, and must change,” Pauline says.
After getting her PhD in January 2013, Pauline began seeking funding to continue her research. But throughout her scientific qualification, she hadn’t received any training to help her apply for her own research funding.
“No one offered this type of training,” Pauline explains. “And that is why the workshop that AREF provides was so helpful.” She also received training supported by the African Academy of Sciences. “It has been my goal to get as much information as possible to support my grant writing skills,” she adds.
The AREF workshop was highly specialised to meet our needs and the facilitators were fantastic. This workshop made a huge difference.
A few months later, Pauline heard about a potential source of funding – the Department for International Development (DFID) supports research to transform maternal and new-born health.
“Thanks to the AREF workshop, I knew that learning about my competitors for the grant could help me be successful,” says Pauline. “It also helped me “pitch” my project effectively, by using language that people from diverse backgrounds could all understand. If you don’t capture peoples’ interest from the start, you’ve lost the battle.”
Pauline’s new project is based in Garissa, a county in the north-east of Kenya. It’s near the Somali border, and she is looking to improve maternal and neonatal health by involving the clan Elders.
“The Elders are highly respected and command a lot of authority. We want to use their position in two ways.
“Firstly, we want to involve them at the grass-roots level, to help make health facilities more acceptable to women. For example, we know that clinical rooms with bright lights and colours can frighten women, and it’s culturally unacceptable for men to be present.
“Secondly, we want the Elders to help by being advocates for health care, encouraging women to attend health facilities to have children.”
Pauline knows they have a long way to go in order to challenge cultural beliefs and win the hearts and minds of the community, but by working in partnership with local organisations she hopes they can make a big impact.
“Ultimately, we want to stop so many women and new-born babies dying needlessly. And it’s thanks to AREF’s training that I now have the funding I need to achieve this ambition.”