[Author Cameron Taylor ('10) is a Geography major at UNC. She is spending a second summer in Malawi conducting research.]
Upon first hearing about a malaria vaccine trial, you do not automatically think traditional birth attendants, but for an upcoming GlaxoSmithKline malaria trial, these women are proving to be a key component to recruiting trial participants. For the past two summers, I have helped as an undergraduate research assistant in Lilongwe, Malawi with the UNC Project –Malawi. I am a rising senior majoring in geography but my goal is to go to graduate school in public health. This summer I am fortunate enough to build the foundation for future spatial analysis in a Phase III malaria vaccine trial. Along with the help of a PhD student in Geography, we have been helping the field workers recruit children and add GPS locations for all trial participants.
Last week when I came into work, one of the field workers told me that we were going to go visit the traditional birth attendants that are within the catchment area for the trial. At first, I did not understand why these women were important for participant recruitment but since the age range for the trial is birth to 17 months, we need to recruit pregnant women so there is always a steady supply of the younger age group. Since women do not travel as far when they are pregnant, we needed to go to them.
The traditional birth attendants play vital roles within the villages. The traditional birth attendants (well the ones around Lilongwe at least) know that is best for the woman to go to the hospital because of the chance of complications. However, if a woman goes into labor at night there is no other alternative. The TBAs houses were very interesting in that the birthing area was only a mat with a pillow on the floor. The women were all old and most did not know how to read even basic Chichewa.
When we go to their houses, I am not much use since I do not know Chichewa, but the field workers do a great job in explaining how the vaccine works and why it is beneficial for women to participate.Malawians are very excited at the potential of the vaccine and when they see us walk around in the villages they approach us wanting their child to be enrolled.
Be it Sweden, America, Iraq or Malawi, women–indeed, people– around the world just want their children to grow up happy and healthy.