Hello world of Facebook friends, family, and UCLA colleagues!
Wow, this journey has been a bit of an… adjustment. Last summer, I had dotted all my I’s and crossed all my T’s in preparation for Nairobi. Everything was in place, and I found myself settling in fairly easy to life in the bustling capital of Kenya. This time around (I am a bit ashamed to admit), I packed the day of my flight, nearly forgot to enroll in the STEP program (through the U.S. Embassy), and have forgotten to pack a few items (not super important, more just inconvenient). I walked into this trip with expectations high, based on my experience in Nairobi. Which has kicked me in the behind. The apartment I am staying in is beautiful, but there are no restaurants or big supermarkets nearby. I’ve been struggling with anxiety and worry that makes me want to stay in the apartment all day, and also knowing that getting out and doing things will be the only way to settle in. In reality, I don’t have a lot to complain about. I have money to use taxis for wherever I want to go, I have A/C (which is the best, considering I am living near the coast), friends and family I can call at almost any time, and an important position within the research team I am working with at Muhimbili University.
Enough about my adjustment (I just needed to vent). Why am I here?
I am a Qualitative Research Consultant for the formative portion of the “Dyadic-Based Diagnosis, Care, & Prevention for HIV Discordant Couples in Tanzania” study. Basically my job here in Tanzania is to help coordinate qualitative research training for our interviewers, support the placement of systems for collecting and handling qualitative data through focus-group discussions and in-depth interviews, and analyze the data as we collect it. We are going to be working in Kisarawe, a small town about 2 hours West of Dar es Salaam, and collecting qualitative data on what people think about PrEP, HIV self-testing, and early ART initiation. In short, pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is a pill that a “high-risk” HIV-negative person takes daily to prevent getting HIV. Self-testing is what it sounds like – you get a kit, do a salivia swab, and within 15 minutes, you receive a result about your HIV status. Antiretroviral therapy is the medication you take after you become HIV+ that helps you stay healthy for as long as possible. Right now in Tanzania, you have to have a CD4 count lower than 300 to be eligible for ART, which means your immune system is already losing the battle to the virus before you get on medication. The goal of early ART initiation is to begin ART as soon as someone is diagnosed with HIV. The problem here is people being willing to take a pill (or multiple) every day, when they are experiencing no symptoms. That’s the quick and dirty.
I’m really interested to see what the results of this qualitative data will tell us, and I have to continually remind myself of my passions and my purpose here as a burgeoning HIV researcher. As long as I keep my eye on the bigger picture, not having a big (Western) supermarket nearby seems less and less of a problem.