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Behind the Science with Eunice Bawafaa

Authors: Arrthy Thayaparan and Alex Lukey (Blog Coordinators) Interviewing: Eunice Bawafaa, RN, MSTTI, MScN, Phd Student, UBC

Our next installment of the Behind the Science features Eunice Bawafaa. Not only is Eunice a talented PhD student, but she is also a registered nurse passionate about improving the health of women in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Eunice "sat down" with Alex over zoom from her home in Ghana to talk about her research journey.

How did you become interested in the work you're currently doing?

I have worked for the past twelve years as a registered nurse in Ghana. In my capacity as an RN, I have worked in several health facilities in different units and also at a policy implementation level at the municipal health directorate as the PMTCT/ HIV, pregnancy school and health promotion coordinator in the La-Nkwantanang Madina Municipal Health Directorate in Accra, Ghana.

So I have been working with women at different stages of their health in materially under-resourced facilities in Ghana. Working in materially under-resourced health facilities in Ghana, I have witnessed firsthand, the devastating effect of poverty in women’s health. Poverty, race and gender affect the ways in which particular groups of women are constructed and treated in the healthcare sector.  Generally, however, women’s knowledge and experiences of and with maternity and child-care in Sub-Saharan Africa are usually discounted in the face of western biomedical practices and knowledge. As a practicing nurse, I have been struck and dismayed at the lack of acknowledgement or recognition of women’s own knowledge with regards to maternity and childcare but such knowledge, in the context of Ghana is considered ‘traditional and backward’.I have been particularly interested in understanding how gendered and racialized constructions of women and particularly rural and poor women, impact the quality of their interaction with healthcare personnel and probably the type of treatment they receive. So these questions, I felt would be better answered through research. There is an impact to be made on the health of these women by giving them a voice because working with them, one thing I've noticed is that they actually don't have a voice in their own health.

So you're doing your PhD right now?

Yes, I'm in my second year in the health equity stream. I am currently looking at the perception of reproductive health access for rural Ghanian women. My mentor and supervisor is Dr. Suzanne H. Campbell. Her work centers around transformational leadership in simulation and lactation, and she also happens to be a member of the Women’s Health Research Cluster here in UBC. She introduced me to this cluster and the lactation lab, which have both enhanced my research. I think there's a lot that we can do for women if we try to solve health problems with evidence from research. We can make a lot of positive changes on what is impacting women’s health.

How would you explain your research in simple terms?

My area of research has to do with rural women who are at an age when they might be starting a family. During these ages, these women have the ability to decide when and how they choose to go to the hospital for services to help them achieve this goal. Sometimes, the society they live in makes it difficult for them to make this important decision. They may even have the money to go to the hospital for the services, but there might be pressure from their community that might change this decision. So in my research, I want to know about this moment when they want to access these services. I want to know about the possible challenges that they are facing in getting these services concerning childbirth and their well-being. Therefore, the purpose of this research is to contribute to finding solutions to problems that women face when going to the hospital for services that can help them choose when and if they want to have children. This will help make the rural women healthier and happier.

What makes you excited about the future of women’s health research? 

What makes me excited is working with top researchers, including my supervisors, Dr. Suzanne H. Campbell and Dr. Alison Phinney who are both changing lives with the wonderful works that they are doing. They are both excellent role models and they are contributing significantly and  impacting health outcomes for women, their families and the larger society. There are also a number of excellent role models in the Women’s Health Research Cluster here at UBC who are making a very significant impact in changing policies and impacting health outcomes for women. As the years go by, more research is being conducted and sponsored for women’s health and that tells us the future is promising for women’s health. Clusters such as the women health research institute here in UBC is training and mentoring more researchers in women’s health and that is one of the many steps that the cluster has taken in ensuring that issues of women’s health are made known to the rest of the world and that something is done about it. There are also a number of good grants that specifically sponsor research for women’s health and that shows that other stakeholders in health are coming to the negotiating table on women’s health. In the end, there will be enough evidence from these researches to change or amend or implement policies that will improve upon the health of women globally. There's a light at the end of the tunnel and it is so exciting; for instance, in my case, I came to Canada (UBC) from Ghana and I am working in partnership with other health stakeholders so that I could make an impact back home in Ghana. I feel excited because I think we are making progress and I am happy to be a part of this progress in health research.

Looking back on your journey, are there things you wish you would have known when you were just starting as a women's health researcher?

Yes! From my own experience, people to mentor you is very important. Also, getting involved in organizations like the Women's Health Cluster are all helpful ways of staying tuned and abreast with issues around us. When I actually started my academic career, I was always more interested in the practical side rather than the other aspects, that is, teaching, administration and research. But then, as I became more grounded in the principles and theories behind my practice that I love so much, I realized that without research, the practice setting would not be improved and we cannot explain or substantiate what we do in the practical field. Research may look tedious, but that is actually how we find solutions to bigger problems. I would encourage anyone who has the love for research to go for it and never look back.

Any last thoughts that you would like to leave us with?

Women are the bedrock of society. Because of this, the health of women is actually the health of society and more attention should be paid on issues of women’s health.