Notes from the Field

Community Engagement Before Health Research is a MUST

As the mother of an adolescent girl who could benefit from the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine, and as a medical provider in Uganda, it pains me greatly to see other parents refusing to vaccinate their children because of myths and misconceptions that are spread in the community. With the HPV vaccine, this includes the belief that vaccines are not safe, can cause infertility, and are linked to promiscuity. This can lead to the failure of the research project I am implementing as an ACHIEVE global research fellow, which seeks to understand HPV uptake among HIV-positive adolescents in antiretroviral therapy (ART) clinics in Mityana District in Uganda.

There is a need for researchers to engage the community by accessing its members through the gatekeepers, or community leaders. This helps the research team to understand the socio-cultural perspective, values and culture of the community, and it helps create a partnership with the community based in mutual respect. Engagement of community members creates ownership of the project and increases the likelihood of project acceptance and trust.

Four months into my study, I have visited a clinic and they put me in touch with the community health workers who are in contact with the adolescents and their parents. The community health workers organized meetings with the parents, where I informed them about the upcoming study.

I have shared here some pictures from the meeting with the community leader within her home, and with some parents in this community. In this community, the women sit on the mats and the men sit on chairs. We had to organize mats and sit with the community’s women, and we had a fruitful meeting.