'Are you willing to travel to Africa as part of your job?', asked Prof Lavy during my interview. Before he had the chance to finish his question, I had already said 'Yes'.
Growing up in Morocco, I knew I was African, but I didn’t feel this part of my identity for a long time. It wasn’t until I entered the Global Surgery field and started having a Global vision of the world that I realized how much I had in common with people from other African countries.
This new realisation brought with it an urgent curiosity to discover other parts of Africa. Doing so while learning more about the delivery of surgical care seemed like a choice made in heaven.
Here I was then, two months after joining the SURG-Africa team as a Research Assistant, flying to Uganda to attend the 20th annual conference of the College of Surgeons of East, Central and Southern Africa (COSECSA) as well as the Consortium Meeting of SURG-Africa. My personal highlight of the conference was attending the Women in Surgery lunch organised by the Women in Surgery Africa. It is a group within COSECSA bringing together female surgeons from the region and creating a platform for mutual mentorship and support. As an aspiring surgeon myself, I enjoyed hearing these women’s experiences and advice.
The conference was of good scientific quality and several members of our team had the opportunity to present. I attended the presentations of Morgane, Grace and Gerald but missed Adinan’s and Chiara’s because I was held in other talks (there was so much going on at the same time!). My colleague Grace, with whom I share a desk in Oxford, presented on the use of Participatory Action Research (PAR) in designing a surgical mentoring programme for district hospitals in Malawi, Tanzania and Zambia. Basically, using PAR means that the researchers and beneficiaries co-designed the programme to make sure that it is suitable to the context.
Unfortunately, too many Global Health projects are still very top-down with interventions designed in Europe or North America and then implemented in Africa or Asia. I am happy to be part of a project that thinks differently and brings together collaborators from Europe and Africa. During this trip I had the chance to see the collaboration in action. Indeed, after the conference ended the SURG-Africa team held the annual Consortium meeting.
During the meeting, each of the six in-country sub team presented their share of the work. We also planned future field trips and collaborations on publications. 2020 is the last year of our project so there was a lot to plan to make sure that nothing is left unfinished. As I looked across the U-shaped table, I could see a nice mix of people in terms of gender and level of experience. Our team included researchers, administrative staff and surgeons from Ireland, Malawi, the Netherlands, Tanzania, the United Kingdom and Zambia. I felt that everyone of them could teach me something!
Besides work, we also enjoyed spending some of our, although limited, free time together. We had good meals and I tried a couple of local food. My favourite was the Matooke with the nutty sauce. I thought it was a root vegetable but after some googling, I found out that it was a type of banana! I have definitely enhanced my knowledge of East Africa during this trip. I left Uganda excited about the year ahead and grateful for the moments spent with my colleagues. I was also grateful for the amount of sunshine I got there, it was a nice break from the British weather.
Zineb Bentounsi is our new colleague in SURG-Africa. She is a research assistant in Oxford. Find more here.