West, Meredith

Public Health

MSPH

Cambodia

Cambodia- Building informed trust: Developing an educational tool for injection practices and health insurance in Cambodia

This is a Center for Global Health funded project that aims to empower people in Cambodia to make informed decisions about medications and insurance, prevent them from seeking inappropriate and unnecessary care, and stop them from becoming poor due to illness. This phase of the project aims to use qualitative techniques to better understand and measure people's current trust, knowledge and utilization patterns, and to test out educational tools for injection practices and health insurance that may be effective in this context.

            Unlike many of my peers at the School of Public Health, I had never been to a developing country prior to my Global Health Established Field Placement. All of the training and coursework during the previous year really helped to prepare me for the research aspect of my trip, however, I knew only experience itself would prepare me for life in a developing country. When I first arrived in Cambodia, the only thing I could do was to completely open my mind to anything and everything that I was about the encounter. I was able to spend the first week or so getting used to the country, and the capital city of Phnom Penh. I was completely overwhelmed, but I tried to take in every second of my experience because I knew my time in Cambodia would be gone before I knew it.

            I have blonde hair, I’m 5’6 and I was travelling alone. All of these characteristics got me extra attention everywhere I went in the country. That was something I learned to take in stride, and eventually many people around where I lived accepted me and did not even notice my blonde hair or fair skin anymore. Food was another concern I had before travelling overseas- I’m an extremely picky eater so I had no idea what I would be eating during my travels. In preparation for this, I packed a very large variety of granola bars, just in case. Fortunately, because I was in the capital city during my stay in Cambodia, there were a lot of places to eat and a large variety of foods to choose from. Instead of losing weight like everyone expected of me, I think I gained weight! However, had my research funding not been delayed, I may have relied more on the granola bars when I had to travel outside of Phnom Penh.

            The people of Cambodia were incredibly warm and caring, despite our struggles to get through a language barrier, I got to know some of my neighbors that I could speak to in passing. Some of them were comfortable enough to ask me about the United States, and I was able to talk to them about Cambodia and their daily lives. To ease my mother’s worries about my travels, I felt extremely safe in Cambodia. However, as with any travels, I made sure I knew my surroundings as best I could, I was careful about what I ate and where and how I travelled.

            Aside from the great cultural experience I had, which is what I will remember most about the trip, I also got to experience the realities of research. My research was scheduled to start about a week after I arrived in Cambodia. However, after meeting with the Cambodian research team, and constantly emailing my PI in the United States, it was clear that the funding was not yet available. This made planning the logistics of the trip very difficult. We had a research team of 6 people, too large for a car, but hiring a van would cost extra money that we did not know if we had or not. So the next few weeks of my work in the country consisted of waiting on funding, tracking the funding, and staying in contact with my PI in the United States. This was not the fun research experience that I was expecting, but it is not at all uncommon.

            Eventually it became clear that the funding was not going to come through before I would have to leave Cambodia. However, I was able to participate in an integral aspect of the research experience: training the data collectors. The phase of the research that I had planned to work on was the qualitative research portion. Conducting qualitative research requires specific skills, and the research guides that I helped to create prior to my trip had to be evaluated to make sure that they made sense when translated to Khmer. This required spending a good amount of time with the Cambodian research team to make sure that everyone understood the questions; so that we could really get the information that we were looking for during the interviews and focus groups. Needless to say, I gained a lot of real world experience in research in a developing country- including time and financial restraints.

            My overall experience was absolutely amazing. My previous year in the Social and Behavioral Interventions program in the International Health Department was absolutely supplemented by my Global Health Established Field Placement, and I’m hooked on finding a career in the international health arena.

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February 2021

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