Linking the research with the public

In this article, Prof. Getnet Tadele, Principal Investigator of the 5S Foundation project in Ethiopia, shares some of the successes of his team’s approach to public engagement as a way of taking the research to the public and engaging the public with the research.

he 5S_Ethiopia project conducted community engagement activity at Debre-Elias district on 5th of April 2023.
The 5S Ethiopia project conducted a community engagement activity in Debre-Elias district on the 5th of April 2023. Various stakeholders from government sectors, podoconiosis& scabies patients, health workers & school leaders participated in the event.

Since launching in September 2019, 5S Ethiopia has recruited five PhD and two MA students who are doing research on podoconiosis and scabies in three regions- Amhara, Oromia and Gambella. Other than academic research, extensive public engagement is part and parcel of this project and in this brief article I share some highlights of engagement activities carried out thus far.

COVID-19 delayed some of our activities. We began by developing a robust Impact Communication and Engagement Strategy which mapped or identified potential project stockholders and planned key public engagement activities to be conducted during the entire project period.

This was followed by an inception workshop on the 28th January 2021. Subsequently, we held consultative meetings with the Ministry of Health (MOH) Water Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) -NTD technical working group members and organized a national advocacy workshop on podo and scabies in collaboration with the National Podoconiosis Action Network (NaPAN). We also conducted five in-person meetings with the Ministry of Health (MoH) team specifically with the Disease Prevention and control Directorate, NTD case team.

Furthermore, eight virtual- zoom meetings with key partners were carried out including among others: MoH –NTD case team, CDT- Africa, NaPAPN, the Consortium of Christian Relief and Development Association (CCRDA) , and Partners in Education Ethiopia.

We also developed different communication materials including:

  • Brochures which indicate about the aims, mission and operations of the project both in Amharic and English.
  • Pocket-size brochures on podo and scabies in Amharic language
  • A roll up banner about the project mission, vision and focus area

Broadening our ways and means of reaching the public, we have used community theatre, music and film. Happily, our documentary, “Agony of the Night” won the best film award at the International Society for Neglected Tropical Diseases ( ISNTD) Festival.

Healthcare workers trained by NaPAN treat podo patients on lymphedema managment.

To deepen our public engagement activities and to work collaboratively with like-minded organizations, we signed a memorandum of understanding (MoUs) with five different institutions including NaPAN, The Ethiopian Society of Sociologists, Social Workers and Anthropologists (ESSSWA), CCRDA, Addis Ababa University-College of Social Sciences, and Partners in Education Ethiopia.

To reach grassroot level communities, we’ve established several Communities of Practices in South Gondar Zone, Dera Woreda, Shime Kebele; West Gojjam Zone, Yilmana-Densa Woreda, Agita Kebele; West Gojjam Zone, North Mecha Woreda, Felege-Birhan Kebel and West Gojam Zone, South Achefere. We also carried out a workshop and awareness creation event in Debre Elias Woreda, East Gojjam zone.

To build the capacity of university staff and ESSSWA members in research methodology and ethics of research, we organized training of trainers on research ethics and writing for publication in Addis Ababa, Wolkite and Arbaminch University.

To further disseminate our project, 5S team members particularly the PI appeared on mainstream media (TV and Radio) such as Sheger FM, Afri-Health TV, Kana- TV, Addis Fortune weekly newsletter, and the Ethiopian Herald daily newspaper. 5S Ethiopia has also a Telegram channel, Facebook page and Twitter account to reach out to a wider audience in and outside of Ethiopia.

Partners in Education in Ethiopia launched a two-year project to create awareness around skin NTDs in schools.

We are very much looking forward to seeing the impact of the recently launched school-based intervention, i.e., using the younger generation of students as agents of change and therefore ensuring the sustainability of the programme in East Gojjam and Awi zone. This is the first time that large-scale messaging on skin conditions is being conducted through the school system in Ethiopia.

Overall, one way to maximize the virtues of a research project is to involve all stakeholders so they fully understand its goals, benefits and challenges. This entails working with communities, conducting stakeholder consultations and building the capacity of junior researchers to develop and sustain the benefits of the project. This has been and will continue to be the 5S Ethiopia team’s approach.

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