President SASTA talks about the importance on involving local scientists in community studies
Fogarty’s Center for Global Health Studies (CGHS) organized a virtual launch event titled “Lessons from the field,” a Conflict and Health/BMC Public Health collection on 27th May 2021. The session highlighted several cases studies from the collection and stimulated discussion around the field of humanitarian health research. President SASTA Dr. Rana Dajani presented her views based on the research her team conducted on Syrian refugees in Jordan.
Giving practical example from her experience Dr. Rana talked about how two projects by an international NGO and university team came together as one to explore building resilience in Syrian refugees through psycho-social interventions, studying which interventions effectively abet violence, and could good science be done under humanitarian conditions. The study was designed to compare Syrian refugees with population of Jordan under same socio-economic conditions. The team involved all international members but then Dr. Rana was invited as she was a local academic working on genetic markers. She effectively emphasized how important it is to involve local researchers to reach out and understand the local community. Through the example of the project which ultimately involved both local and international team members, Dr. Rana explained the difference in studying ‘with the community’ and studying ‘on the community’.
It is important of involve local team members as they know local ethics, community, agency and can help in raising awareness among the people
Not only the project collected data but helped ignite the passion of science in the community by explaining science to them for better understanding of the working of the project. The groups were informed about randomized control trial and genetic markers. While working, the team faced a situation, the project needed to collect samples of hair to quantify cortisol secretions in hair. As the local team members knew their community, they advised offering free haircuts at three different time points for data collection which made people completely trust the project and involved.
A happy child: The process of collecting hair samples for the project
Another significance of involving local people in the teams is capacity building. Dr. Rana gave example of the project as it involved both Syrian and Jordanian team members; they were trained in conducting methods. The local team read the community and developed the methods accordingly. Another important point which Dr. Rana raised was the incorrect use of standards taken from international countries and applying them on the locals. Interventions did not increase resilience, as the interventions were based on international standards and locals build resilience by involving family and community. She mentioned through adopting holistic approach policy makers can target several components at a given population.
When asked as how central it is in getting ethical approval especially working in conflict hit areas, she mentioned the significance of IRB communities at local universities and ministries to streamline research and reduce redundancy. Answering another question on how research can be used to induce sustainability, Dr. Rana stated that shifting from humanitarian aid to empowering the locals to come up with their own solutions can help them build their future. She said, “Magical change is when people feel they are important and [they] matter and have some control on their lively hood going forward”. She closed the answer saying NGOs should come in with support and the things should be created by the people for the people. Only a true collaboration can make the future better for everyone”.