Last Week in Mbarara, Uganda

July 26, 2017

Hi everyone!

I’m wrapping up my eighth week here in Mbarara, Uganda! The last two months have flown by. I have absolutely loved my time here, and I am sad to be leaving in just two short days.

Today, Emmanuel and I gave our final presentation to the research team at Epicentre Research Center. As a reminder, our project aims to study patterns of antimalarial drug resistance in Uganda. We discussed the specifics of using Taqman Array Cards (TAC), which is the main lab technique that we used to analyze parasitic DNA. We covered the basic science of how TAC works, as well as how TAC can be used to study antimalarial drug resistance. Next, we talked about our lab procedures and results. We covered some of our analysis, discussing how we determined the limit of detection, or the sensitivity, of using TAC for malaria research. We closed with the future implications of employing TAC to study malaria globally. Overall, I thought our presentation went smoothly, and it was good practice for our analysis week in Charlottesville next week.

I was very sad to leave Epicentre for the last time. Saying good-bye to Kennedy, the lab manager, was especially hard, since he has been a major contributor to our project. I am so appreciative of all of his help this summer, and I am definitely planning to stay in touch with him in the future. Reflecting back on the last two months of research, I am very pleased with how it went overall. We only had a few minor issues, and Emmanuel and I were able to troubleshoot these small hiccups with help from Ugandan peers and UVA professors.

This project has allowed me to grow as an independent researcher, and I have gained subsequent appreciation for international collaboration. I have witnessed the ways that two teams can effectively work together, contributing valuable ideas and unique insight despite cultural barriers. Engaging with international colleagues through scientific research has given me a distinct perception of how research can build future investigations into the burden of disease in this area. Additionally, the cultural awareness I have gained has allowed me to work efficiently with peers from diverse backgrounds. Learning about Ugandan culture has facilitated meaningful interactions and dialogue. I have found that this deeper perspective on cultural awareness is one of the many factors that contributes to successful global research collaboration.

Group of six other American students who have been in Mbarara conducting research projects for the last two months through the MHIRT program,

In free time outside of the lab, I have been able to see more of Uganda. During my favorite weekend trip, I hiked Mount Sabyinyo, a dormant volcano located on border of Uganda, Rwanda, and the Congo. I hiked with two friends I met at MGH Guest House; they are both my age at Harvard. The hike was absolutely amazing; we covered over eleven miles in about eight hours. We moved through several vegetation zones to summit three peaks; the third peak marked the border of the three countries. As we sat at the top and ate our lunch, we were able to simultaneously see the Congo, Rwanda, and Uganda. Overall, it was an incredible day, making it my favorite hike I’ve done!

Summit at Mount Sabyinyo, marking where the borders of Uganda, Rwanda, and the Congo meet.

This past weekend, I participated in a Color Run that was put on by MGH Collaborative and Mbarara University to fundraise for the new pediatric oncology ward at Mbarara Regional Hospital. The run raised over $31,000, and it was fun to participate! I placed first out of all the women running in the race, which was completely unexpected. I loved seeing so many people come out to support the run, and it seemed like everyone had a great time.

Dr. Ryan Carroll at the Color Run, a fundraiser to support the new pediatric oncology ward at Mbarara Regional Hospital.

As I wrap up my last few days in Mbarara, I am so grateful that I have had the opportunity to engage in this international research project. I have learned so much about participating in global collaboration, and I am glad I was able to continue the partnership between UVA and Mbarara University of Science and Technology. This experience has confirmed my desire to engage in future global health opportunities, whether that be in research or clinical work. A million thanks to UVA Center for Global Health for allowing me to embark on this incredible journey; I could not have asked for a better summer!

-Gillean Kelly


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