Malaria continues to rank high on Uganda’s health radar beckoning scientists, health care professionals and the general public to collectively seek innovative high impact solutions to complement existing malaria control tools. Over 200 million people are infected with malaria every year. In Uganda, over 12 million cases were reported in 2016, of which an estimated 13,000 deaths were reported (WHO 2017: 124). It therefore means that many have experienced bouts of malaria attacks, have nursed a loved one or even lost a close family member, friend or acquaintance to the disease.
Stakeholder engagement is core to Target Malaria’s work. In Uganda we have a dedicated stakeholder engagement team. Our role is to engage various stakeholders at the community, local and national level. We see engagement as a two-way dialogue and as a reinforcement of our commitment to co-develop our novel malaria control tool. In Uganda, we have started the dialogue with our stakeholders around our research and project. While informing our stakeholders on our research, we also want to make sure they understand our work and hear their questions and concerns so that we can address them. Furthermore, as a principle of co-development we also feed back their concerns to the project and they are integrated into our project’s risk assessment.
Across the project, we follow a step wise approach in the development of our research and this is equally applied to our engagement strategy. This means that we start with sharing simple information and gradually build on more complex blocks and concepts. Earlier this year, we have developed a glossary in local language (Luganda) of scientific terminologies to facilitate our discussions with local communities where we work and to ensure our communication is consistent and uniform across around different engagements with local communities. Our engagement protocols have been presented and approved by the Ugandan Virus Research Institute’s ethics committee and by the Ugandan National Council for Science and Technology.
Our engagements activities have mainly been focused on the communities in the villages where we collect mosquitoes. Mosquitoes collections are important to our work as they help us create baseline studies for our research. To that end, we work in collaboration with our entomology team to help them seek consent (individual) and/or acceptance (collective) to collect mosquitoes.
Alongside outreach to communities in villages, we engage the community around our research institute and our insectary (currently under construction) at the Uganda Virus Research Instituteand stakeholders at national level to inform and consult them on project activities.
More recently, our team participated to an international conference called CRISPRcon in Boston, USA. This was a great opportunity for us to share our engagement approach to a wider audience but it also gave the chance to one of our stakeholder – Edward Kabayi – a village local council chairman to take part and share his experience of working with Target Malaria. We believe that we cannot develop our novel malaria control tool without the support of our stakeholders and building relationships with local communities is crucial for a successful development of Target Malaria’s research in Uganda.