Global Health Scholar: Waruiru Mburu
The CGHSR Scholars Program provides hands-on training at international research sites to University of Minnesota students through a guided mentorship program.
Two recipients of the CGHSR Scholars award for 2019 - 2020 are currently being supported through the program for a year of international research at partner institutions. Under the mentorship of Beth Virnig and Shalini Kulasingam with the University of Minnesota's School of Public Health, Mburu is implementing a project entitled, "Epidemiology of Breast Cancer in Ghana," at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Kumasi, Ghana. She is part of the Northern Pacific Global Health Research Fogarty Fellows cohort, with funding from the CGHSR Scholars program. In this article, she shares how her experience is going so far and briefs us on her current projects as a CGHSR Scholar.
Please tell us a little bit about your projects.
More than 50% of breast cancer patients in Ghana are diagnosed with advanced metastatic disease. It is generally thought that the high prevalence of metastatic cases in Ghana is due to delays in seeking and accessing care. Breast cancer patients in Ghana experience long delays between symptom detection, breast cancer diagnosis, and receipt of treatment. My first study is examining how Ghanaian women navigate the healthcare system and factors that influence their decisions and ability to seek breast cancer care. For the study, I will interview women diagnosed with breast cancer and currently receiving treatment at Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital (KATH), which is the second largest hospital in Ghana.
Breast cancer patients in Ghana tend to be younger than patients in other parts of the world such as United States. Worldwide, breast cancer in younger patients tends to be more aggressive with rapid progression and higher mortality rates compared to older women. For my second study, I am using the Kumasi Cancer registry to assess factors that may explain the younger age at diagnosis among Ghanaian breast cancer patients.
What have you learned about conducting research in Ghana that you didn't know before?
It is extremely important to first form relationships with the staff before even starting the research. I spent the first two months shadowing the doctors, talking to nurses and hospital administrators to first understand how the system runs. This also created trust and when I started my study, everyone has been immensely helpful especially with the recruitment.
How have your mentors supported you?
My Ghanaian mentors have introduced me to local people who are key for my research – e.g research staff and directors whose consent I needed before starting the research. They also guided me in the local IRB process. My Minnesota mentors have been immensely helpful with the research development, UMN IRB process and have given me constant helpful feedback. Personally, they always check in to make sure I have settled in well. They have also been super helpful in navigating local research relationships and super encouraging when things took longer than expected. Generally, both Ghana and Minnesota mentors have been extremely supportive and made it clear that they are always available when I need help.
What are you enjoying most about living in Kumasi, Ghana?
Personally — The food and music are amazing. The people are also very kind and it is nice not to experience the winter. Professionally — interviewing and interacting with the patients has recharged my interest in cancer research.
—Waruiru Mburu, PhD Candidate, School of Public Health
CGHSR Scholars Program
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