Caroline Ackley, Timothy Carroll, Aaron Parkhurst
In January 2019, Timothy Carroll (UCL) and Aaron Parkhurst (UCL) – funded by the UCL Global Engagement Fund – partnered with Caroline Ackley (LSHTM, now Sussex) to establish a network, focusing on issues of medical materiality within maternal and infant health. The Engagement programme included a short series on practical qualitative methods training, a lecture on medical anthropology, and a symposium on infant mortality and maternal health in Harar, Ethiopia. The workshop and symposium was in collaboration with Hararghe Health Research (HHR), a partnership between Haramaya University (HU) and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), and we were graciously hosted by the HU College of Health and Medical Sciences. During 3 days’ worth of activities, running from Thursday, Friday, and the subsequent Monday, we engaged with the HHR social science research team, first year public health PhD students from Haramaya University, and select PhD students and early career researchers from other universities across Ethiopia.
On the first day, and the morning of the second, participants learned about ethnographic methods and conducted participant observation focusing on phenomenology. We discussed the ethics of conducting qualitative research and participants shared their own research experiences. The afternoon of the second day Aaron gave a lecture on medical anthropology, which introduced participants from a public health background to key concepts and ideas.
On the weekend break, we were able to arrange a walking tour of the hills overlooking Harar, which allowed scholars based in Harar to join alongside those based in Addis Ababa, elsewhere in Africa, and the UK for a day’s hike. The hills overlooking Harar, many of which are cultivated for khat, also are home to an ancient Muslim saint known for his medicinal herbs. Khat offers commercial opportunity for residents of Harar, providing income and work where other opportunities are scarce. However, its cultivation comes at a price. The plant is addictive and water intensive. Water is particularly scarce, especially in the dry season, and many local residents go without clean water for extended periods of time which has been diverted to maintain khat fields.
On the third and final day of our scheduled collaboration with HU, we hosted a symposium titled ‘Anthropological Approaches to Understanding Child and Maternal Mortality, and Recommendations for Improving Health Outcomes in Ethiopia’ and invited presenters from across Ethiopia to share their research.
For the next 5 weeks you will be able to virtually meet and engage with symposium presenters and learn about their research. Each week we will post a short abstract to introduce you to their work with a link to complete symposium proceedings. You will also learn a bit more about each person and can connect with them about their research and hopefully, future collaboration. Throughout our period in Harar, the recurrent them in terms of the cause for endemic problems in maternal and infant health was the lack of clean water, and malnutrition linked to the lack of resources for fresh vegetable cultivation.
We would like to thank the UCL Global Engagement fund for supporting our collaboration with Hararghe Health Research and Haramaya University, College of Health and Medical Sciences.