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IT as support for reduced maternal mortality in developing countries

Hawa Nyende is one of the PhD students in the BRIGHT project – a SIDA-financed collaboration between University of Gothenburg and Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden, and Mbarara University and Makerere University in Uganda. The goal of the BRIGHT-project is to build research capacity of the two universities in Uganda by educating ten doctoral students. Hawa Nyende’s research area is in the e-health domain, with a focus on the use of IT to reduce maternal mortality in developing countries.

Focus on how information technology actively can support patients

– In my research I focus on how information technology actively can support patients to improve and participate in their own health, and the research is biased towards women to support their health during pregnancy and childbirth, says Hawa Nyende. In Uganda and other developing countries, women die during pregnancy or due to childbirth-related complications. The pregnant women are mainly supported by volunteers since there are usually not enough professionally trained people around, especially in rural areas.

Co-creation as a way to share important information

– When I got enrolled at the University of Gothenburg, we had a kick-off workshop where I presented my original research idea, which was based on simple predictive models. The feedback I received during the workshop was that these models were more related to the computer science discipline.

– The feedback made me rethink and I decided to look more upon how IT is used and how it is designed. I zoomed out from the predictions and started to look at the co-creation, how do we get the process out to the people involved, to the women themselves and also to the midwives? Is IT a possible way to support the women and reduce the risks during pregnancy – can we make the information they need available through mobile services for example?

Half time in Sweden and half time in Uganda

As a PhD student in the BRIGHT project Hawa Nyende spends half time in Gothenburg and half time at her home university, Makerere University in Uganda. The PhD education started in 2016 with ten months at University of Gothenburg, since there were many courses at the time to follow. The second part of the education in Sweden consisted of four months, and the last one will consist of another ten months. This is when the PhD students start the writing process, a preparation for the final exam and a few months after that the dissertation.

While in Uganda, Hawa collects data for her research from health workers, pregnant women and volunteers in rural communities. Having supervisors from both universities provides opportunities to link research to practice.

Many forums for presenting the research and get useful feedback

– I have presented my research progress in the planning and halfway seminars, organised by the Department of Applied IT, University of Gothenburg. The final seminar will be in November this year and in June 2020 I will have my doctoral defence. Currently, we get feedback on how to improve our academic texts and the last months of our time as doctoral students means reading and writing. I have written five research papers so far and have been to several conferences to present them. The comments I have got have really helped me to improve my work.

– I am also part of the Graduate School of Management and IT, MIT – which is run by Uppsala University. MIT organises bi-annual conferences where PhD students from 12 collaborating universities in Sweden meet and discuss their research in progress. This means that we present our work at the conference and get a lot of feedback from our doctoral colleagues and from the professors, which I find really good for the research process.

Going back to Uganda for teaching and research

One of the main objectives for the collaboration between the universities in Uganda and Sweden is to educate teachers within the ICT area in Uganda to PhD level, which means they will then be able to educate new PhD students in their home country when they are back.

– I was initially teaching at Makerere University, my home university in Uganda, says Hawa. After my PhD I will return to Uganda, continuing teaching, doing some more research, writing papers. I have put in a lot of effort, but I still find it very interesting!

More exposed to the research area as a PhD student in Sweden

Hawa thinks the idea of spending half of the doctoral time in Sweden and half of the time in Uganda has been working well so far.

– The PhD education in Sweden is more structured as I see it. You are also more exposed to the research area, as you continuously discuss and share ideas with researchers of similar research interests. Altogether this means that it is easier to progress in your research. In Uganda there are usually so many things you have to do in parallel, sometimes teaching, then you have your family and so on. It is for many reasons easier to focus during your time in Sweden. My supervisor in Uganda also comes here from time to time, which has an impact on his research back in Uganda too.

Being away from the family is the hard part

– But I miss my family of course, that is a bit disturbing. I have three children in Uganda, two eleven-year-olds – they are twins – and one four-year-old. It has been hard to be away from them for such a long time. The funding for the PhD collaboration does not include the family. My children are now being looked after by my sister and my husband, but my family are happy for me and very understanding. They really want me to do this, even if it means that I am away most of the time.

The best things about being a doctoral student...

– Being a doctoral student opens up doors to collaborate and generate new knowledge and skills, especially If you have good supervisors. I have learnt a lot in the area of IT and I have personally gained skills in conducting research, communication, writing and presentation. In addition, I have added to my professional network both in business and academia. I will take this opportunity to thank my supervisors for their support and guidance.

 

September 2019

Text & photo: Catharina Jerkbrant


Research papers, a selection:

 

Hawa Nyende: PhD student in the BRIGHT project

Hawa NyendeHawa Nyende from Uganda is focusing on co-creation, how people can improve their own health by actively seek and share health-related information.

Page Manager: Catharina Jerkbrant|Last update: 10/31/2019
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