Attending the 7th World Research Congress of the European Association for Palliative Care (EAPC), Eve Namisango, a Sir Halley Stewart Scholar and Research Manager at the African Palliative Care Association, shares her thoughts on the challenges researchers such as herself in Africa often face and overcome.
It was fascinating to attend a conference where very high quality palliative care research findings were being discussed. Initially I thought the 7th World Research Congress of the EAPC, held in Trondheim, Norway on 7-9 June, was going to be a purely European research convention. However, I found there to be a large degree of representation from sub-Saharan Africa and the presentations had great relevance to my continent and work. As a member of the African Palliative Care Research Network (APCRN), I learnt a lot of lessons from the convention that I think can be applied to an African context.
The importance of research mentorship
As there is a lack of a critical mass for palliative care researchers in Africa, students often need to outsource supervisory support on their own, which is very challenging because of their loose connections with other research hubs in the world. At the conference, various ‘meet the experts’ and short mentorship sessions was something I thought we should bring to Africa to address this issue. There was so much to learn from the brief sessions with people I consider a strong presence in the fields of statistics and palliative care, such as professors Irene Higginson and Peter Fayres, to mention a few.
During the conference, I had a great conversation with someone I consider a strong presence in the palliative care field – Dr Jonathan Koffman, a senior researcher and lecturer at Cicely Saunders Institute, King’s College London. In my conversation with him, we discussed the need for research and education in palliative care in Africa.
“It is very expensive to build capacity and achieve a critical mass… for example, we trained just two people and this was just a drop in the ocean,” he said. Supporting Dr Koffman’s claim, Tony Powell, APCA’s Director of Learning and Research added, “This drop could even be lost if it is not supported to move people up to the next level.”
As there are very limited training opportunities in palliative care research, scholars in Africa must struggle on their own to meet the financial needs for trainings, which are usually conducted outside Africa and cost a fortune to attend. Therefore, I think we need to train and mentor African researchers to the PhD level to bridge this gap and increase collaboration with other experts outside the continent.
Research methodology and presentation skills
I learnt a lot about research methodology as the EAPC brought together international delegates with an expertise in palliative care research methodology under one roof. Often, research skills are not nurtured in African public education systems, so scholars have to struggle on their own in adulthood to develop these critical skills, which are essential for research practice. These skills might include:
- How to be a critical reader of research papers
- How to write articles for publication
- How to write an abstract
- How to analyse data, and
- How to make an effective presentation of one’s findings to an international audience.
These are lessons you either have to go out and pay a lot of money to learn, or take advantage of the chance of exposure when afforded the opportunity to learn from the best experts available in the world. Where possible, funding short-term courses to nurture upcoming researchers would be very useful.
I had a chance to network with other African researchers who were working in different parts of the world. There are other Africans out there who are doing a lot of research around palliative care, although some are based in Western countries. Attending the 7th World Research Congress of the EAPC reminded me that I can continue to grow as a researcher by tapping into their expertise through networking.
As I pondered lessons from the convention, I was led to believe that the African Palliative Care Research Network (APCRN) is the best avenue for addressing such challenges in the short term. We need to collaborate with Europe, North and South America and other research hubs so that we can share both financial and intellectual resources. I am now focused on making the APCRN a great success in Africa and beyond.
Eve’s attendance at the EAPC’s 7th World Research Congress was generously funded by the Regional HIV/AIDS Programme (RHAP) Namibia.