First of all, I came here wanting to focus on sexual and reproductive health, as that is my main public health interest, and if I may be so bold, specialty. Luckily, the medical director was interested in exploring sexual and reproductive health as it pertains to adolescents (teen pregnancy is very common here, and I believe that’s what drove him to want this researched in depth). In the grand scheme of things I answer to the medical director; however, the truth of the matter is I am very much on my own here. I meet with him once a week to update him on my activities and progress, but other than that this is completely self-directed. Every morning I wake up and make a to-do list and diligently go about crossing things off until I’m satisfied I’ve contributed and completed a full-day’s work. It requires a delicate balance between being proactive and patient: I’m not the only one with things to do around here, and I frequently find myself waiting for meetings, responses, etc. The other public health fellow and I lovingly refer to this as “hurry up and wait.” I make sure I’m prepared, but I can’t physically make things go any faster.
So, the plan. I will be conducting (hopefully) two needs assessments of adolescent sexual and reproductive health (SRH), with the goal that this information will contribute to a comprehensive SRH curriculum (that I will create before I leave). The first one will be a needs assessment focused on a local high school, and preparation/partnership is well under way for this one. I’ve met with the Directrice and Censeur (head master of sorts) twice already and they are definitely on board. The second one will be focused on the hospital, which will take more finesse and politics (not necessarily the best PR move to come in as a foreigner and assess how the hospital is treating/responding to adolescents’ needs). However, I sincerely hope I can accomplish both because you have to work both sides of the system. You can’t arm adolescents with the tools and knowledge they need to take care of themselves and then not have anyone on the receiving end to help them out.
So what does this all mean in English? For approximately the next month I will be gathering data via surveys, focus groups, interviews, hospital/school records etc. to determine adolescents’ behavior, knowledge, and attitudes surrounding sexual health. With this information I will write a curriculum for the school that addresses these issues. Ideally, I will also gather data at the hospital level to determine how well equipped the hospital is to address adolescent SRH.
Now that you know the plan, get excited for all the hiccups that are bound to occur along the way!