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June 28, 2016

Meet MCDI's Experts: Esther Eburi



Esther Eburi Losoha at her poster at the 2018 Multilateral Initiative on Malaria Conference in Dakar, Senegal. Eburi presented on the communications with potential trial participants in Equatorial Guinea, a country that had never had a clinical trial before the EGMVI.

In Equatorial Guinea, MCDI is a member of the Equatorial Guinea Malaria Vaccine Initiative (EGMVI), which, with the funding of Marathon Oil and the Government of Equatorial Guinea, is conducting clinical trials on a new malaria vaccine developed by Sanaria, Inc. Esther Eburi, an Equatoguinean national, is the Initiative's Vaccine Project Officer. We spoke with Eburi about her experiences working in her home country with Equatorial Guinea's first ever clinical trial and her vision towards both her and her country's future.

How did you become interested in working in public health?

In college I majored in pre-medicine with the goal to study medicine. When I transferred to the University of Houston I had to change my major to Biology and decided to minor in Health Sciences. The health science courses opened my mind to public health, I realized I did not want to treat people who are already sick or in pain, I wanted to prevent people from getting sick, and I wanted to promote healthy behaviors. After graduating from my bachelor's in biology and minor in health in 2010, I decided to go to graduate school. The school that helped me fulfill my new path in public health was Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine.

What led you to want to work with MCDI on the vaccine initiative in Equatorial Guinea?

I first heard of MCDI when I was still doing my MPH in New Orleans. My public health analysis was a systematic review of malaria research conducted in Equatorial Guinea. I was able to read articles on the tremendous work MCDI has been doing in my country since 2004. I knew I wanted to return to my country and work in the health sector and specifically work with MCDI in the fight against malaria. So in 2014, I joined MCDI as a field coordinator based on my background in public health.

Please briefly describe your role in the vaccine initiative.

Initially I was hired as the field coordinator, in charge of community sensitizations and recruitment of study participants for the malaria vaccine clinical trials, then as a field and communication coordinator and supervisor, and now I am currently the Vaccine Project Officer of the EGMVI. My main role is to support the project on logistics and administration to complete the clinical research. Although it is a different role, I am still supervising the field team when needed and support in the development of documents for trainings, presentations and community outreach activities. I also provide support as a link between our different partners and the field team.

In your work, what does a typical day look like?

A typical day starts with coffee, then following up on pending issues from our weekly teleconferences, usually contacting the administration team in BIMCP to follow up on material requested, following up on some documents that need to be developed either for training or a presentation, responding to emails from our partners following up on Letters of Intent for our visitors, or attending a meeting with the Ifakara Health Institute staff on pending action items for the start of the new trial phases. I then take a quick break for lunch and continue with meetings and serve as an interpreter between English and Spanish speakers. I conclude my day by learning a new word in Swahili.

What are your major personal and professional satisfactions in working with MCDI on the EGMVI?

Working with MCDI on the EGMVI project has molded me into the researcher I am now. I don't only want to be a public health advocate and implement only in prevention and promotion of diseases; I want to do more, I want to investigate, I want to research those diseases that are still a burden in our society and in our communities in general. I have a unique opportunity to work in an environment where I can do both. With MCDI I am able to practice my public health skills and my newly acquired skills in research. Personally, MCDI has provided me with the foundation in which I can continue my professional path in global health. Through MCDI, I now have the opportunity of pursuing my PhD in social science and epidemiology, potentially becoming the first female Equatoguinean in that field. My goal is to branch out both nationally and internationally, not only on malaria research but on other diseases that are still affecting Equatorial Guinea socially, economically and politically.

What are some major "lessons learned" from your experience which might be helpful to the global community in developing clinical trials in other countries?

I want to believe that the work we started in 2014 with the first clinical trial ever conducted in Equatorial Guinea will serve as a foundation for countries around the world, especially countries with similar political and socioeconomic backgrounds. The process it takes for the development of clinical trials, specifically vaccine clinical trials, is very complex. One major lesson learned was on the difference between control interventions and research. The community was so naive to research that most of them believed we had a vaccine ready for immunization to protect their children from malaria. Information from the higher stakeholders to the local community needs to be a priority. Focusing on only the community can create issues with the community leaders if they are not well informed, and vice versa. It is important to have clear key messages to avoid a communication crisis, because that can cause the entire clinical trial to be stopped.

What do you think the potential implications of successful trials in EG will be for the country (and the world)?

Equatorial Guinea is a very small country, but the impact that we can provide by conducting successful clinical trials is massive. We started with only four local Equatoguinean staff conducting the phase I clinical trial, and now we have more than 30 local staff training and potentially conducting a phase III clinical trial. The unique collaborations between our different partners elevates the standards of Equatorial Guinea in the scientific world to another level. Having the government support and their funding of the project also sets an example of the commitment it has to its people towards the elimination of malaria in the country and hopefully the world.





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