Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Research update

I haven’t yet posted too much about the research I am doing here for my thesis, so I thought I would do a little update. I now have only 10 interviews left to do out of a total of 25. I am going to add 2 more interviews (hopefully) with key informants, so I will probably have a total of 27 interviews when I’m finished.

For those who don’t know, the research I am doing here is for my thesis, for my MA in International Affairs from Carleton University in Canada. I completed my coursework at Carleton last year (08-09) and just have the thesis left to do. I am doing the fieldwork here in Sierra Leone, and will finish the writing when I return to Canada. I’m hoping to graduate in the spring.

My research is on barriers to accessing health care for poor, rural women in Sierra Leone. I am using Mapaki as a case study. The research takes a qualitative approach – I’m trying to understand how women here perceive barriers to health care as well as what barriers actually exist. I’m interviewing 20 women from the community and 5-7 key informants, people in leadership positions in the community, or those that are involved in health work or service delivery.

The interview process so far has been quite a learning experience. For many of the women, this is one of the first times they are really being asked their opinion about health services, and it seems to me as though this is something they have not given much thought to before. Sometimes the interviews are difficult because the woman I’m interviewing just doesn’t really have much to say. Also, with the language, cultural and class barriers, it’s very challenging to make women who are shy feel more comfortable. It’s difficult just to be able to have a casual chat with a woman before beginning the formal interview when you are using an interpreter. It’s also difficult to interview people who are currently suffering with a health issue when there’s nothing I can really do to help, except to sympathise.

In some of the interviews I have gotten very interesting nuggets of information, like stories about the effect of the belief in witchcraft on health, or about how fees for health services have affected people. I am looking forward to finishing the interviews and really being able to start the analysis to pull out all the interesting bits of information. As my supervisor told me, sometimes it’s hard to see what’s interesting or important when you’re in the middle of doing the interviews, and it’s only afterwards when you can really see the results of your work.

One thing I have struggled with so far is getting official information on health statistics and the health system here in Sierra Leone. There is some information on the Ministry of Health’s website, but a lot of it is old and outdated. Last week when I was in Freetown, I visited the Ministry of Health offices to see if I could find out anything, get copies of reports, etc. Unfortunately, the whole planning department was out of town for the whole week, so there wasn’t even anyone there I could talk to. Luckily, I have made contact with a VSO volunteer from Australia working in the Ministry offices, and I think she will be able to help me with access to some reports and information.

I also just did an interview this morning with someone from the District Council, and they let me know about the launch of the 2008 National Demographic and Health Survey results that is happening this Thursday. I will be able to get a copy of that report on Thursday or Friday, and that should have a lot of good data. That will really be helpful to my work, and I'm so glad it's being released before I leave. A breakthrough in the search for data!

With only 2 weeks left before I leave it seems like there is a lot of research work remaining. Wish me luck in getting it all done!

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