Maddy has a background as a medical doctor, specialising in public health over the last 4 years. She is working to combine a career in academic medical anthropology and global public health, with current interests in infectious disease control, sustainable development, biosocial understandings of disease, and the social and political roots of health inequalities. Maddy has some experience of research and teaching in Kenya, Tanzania and Ethiopia. She has most recently worked as a health adviser at the Department for International Development (DFID) UK on NTD programmes, and public health registrar at the Greater London Authority (GLA) on health inequalities. She is also a Trustee of Skillshare International, an international development charity that work with partners in Africa and Asia to reduce poverty, injustice and inequality (http://www.skillshare.org/).
Trachoma is the commonest infectious cause of blindness worldwide, disproportionately affecting the most economically and politically marginalised populations. The WHO’s trachoma control strategy, SAFE (Surgery, Antibiotics, Facial cleanliness and Environmental hygiene), is implemented with little attention to the social, political, economic, and historical context, whilst trachoma experience is strewn with peculiarities, uncertainties and complexities influencing people’s interaction with services. The global elimination agenda has dramatically increased funding and shaped intervention delivery, however, existing anthropological research on neglected tropical disease control demonstrates a lack of serious engagement with social, structural and political dimensions, is misleading and unhelpful.
This ethnographic research aims to develop a biosocial understanding of trachoma in Malawi. It will also explore the challenges of eliminating trachoma, and translation between elimination policy and practice. Data will be collected from participant observation, interviews, document analysis and a survey, over 12 months in a southern district, and from relevant district, zonal, national and international stakeholders in Malawi. Biosocial literature highlights the central place of context, interaction, equity, structure and political economies of health, drawing on concepts such as ‘human becomings’ and biosocial differentiation. Recent ‘renegotiations’ between biological and social disciplines and theory, hypothesises new theoretical territory and practical application.
This research will be conducted through a non-academic partnership with Sightsavers, the coordinating NGO partner for trachoma in Malawi, and an informal collaboration with the Blantyre institute of Community Ophthalmology (BICO).
The difference my research makes
This research will enhance anthropological knowledge and understanding of trachoma and the SAFE strategy in Malawi, and the broader relationship between infectious disease elimination policy and practice. It will also contribute to literature on the development of biosocial approaches to infectious diseases, public health interventions, and health policy, and potentially to Sightsavers’, and their partners’, planning and development of activity for trachoma in Malawi. There will also be opportunities to develop the research and technical skills of a local interpreter. Findings will be disseminated through publication and presentations in anthropological and global health journals and at local, national and international events to a wide audience in both anthropology and global public health.
Dr Melissa Parker, Reader in Medical Anthropology: http://www.lshtm.ac.uk/aboutus/people/parker.melissa
Dr Simon Cohn, Reader in Medical Anthropology: http://www.lshtm.ac.uk/aboutus/people/cohn.simon