Last month I was fortunate to have the opportunity to travel to West Nile region, Uganda to start up a research project. As with many of the projects I’m involved in, the project is based in an area far from the usual tourist track, hence I was privileged to get a glimpse of the ‘real’ Uganda. When I travel to places such as this, a few things generally happen (roughly in this order). Firstly, I gain a sense of perspective as I realise that a lot of the things that I, and a vast number of other people in the developed world, stress about are often trivial and we should try to focus on the bigger picture rather than let the little things get us down. Secondly, I humbly accept that my vision of what seemed practical and feasible to do while I was sitting in my cosy office in Liverpool was at best naïve, at worst ridiculous, when faced with the reality of the fieldwork. Thirdly, I’m inspired and awed by the community members that I meet, who work so hard to maintain what little they have, and deserve to have so much more. Whilst the contributors to poverty are complex, and there is no magical single solution that can solve the world’s problems, small things can make a big difference. This is literally the case on the project I am working on, where small pieces of blue material, referred to as ‘tiny targets’ are being used to control tsetse fly populations in Uganda, as these insects transmit a disease known as sleeping sickness or human African trypanosomiasis.
Tsetse flies love the colour blue, hence when they spot these tiny targets, they fly towards them and upon hitting the black mesh they are killed by the insecticide with which the mesh is impregnated. These tiny targets are much more cost effective and easier to deploy in comparison more traditional, bulky traps that are used to control tsetse numbers, and have contributed to significant reduction in sleeping sickness in Uganda. My contribution to this project thus far is also small, as I focus on producing predictive maps of tsetse distribution using high resolution satellite imagery to see if they can be used to guide future tiny target deployment, but I think I’d rather be a small part of something that has a big impact than a big part of something that has little or none.
My short but sweet trip to Uganda served two purposes: (1) a bit of a recce to find out more about how things operate in the field and hopefully help me to avoid making any naïve/ridiculous assumptions when continuing my work on the project back in Liverpool, (2) to help set up an LSTM MSc project in the area, which involves exploring factors which influence community member’s contact with tsetse flies. I’ve supervised five MSc field projects over the last four years, and I’m always amazed by the opportunity the students here are given to undertake overseas projects such as this one. And of course, I love having the opportunity to join them for a week or two to help them settle in. A five week project in West Nile, Uganda certainly blows the month I spent analysing data Baltimore as part of my MSc dissertation out of the water!
This year’s MSc project once again involves the use of GPS data loggers to help monitor the amount of time spent in and around tsetse fly areas. I used these in a project in Malawi last year to monitor the impact of lymphoedema on mobility and obtained some really interesting results, so I’m looking forward to seeing how well they work this year. This project has also included my first ODK (opendatakit) venture, meaning that the student is collecting data on a tablet uploading the data when she has WiFi (which is often, due to the joys of mobile data), meaning that I can view it from Liverpool pretty much as and when it comes. I’m pretty impressed so far!
Long may the opportunity to conduct and supervise fieldwork continue!