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From Fighting Malaria in Ethiopia to a PHD degree in Operational Research

Operational Research News 
Every year, Médecins Sans Frontières and The Union support trainings to build operational research capacity in low- and middle income countries around the globe. For the first time in the history of the Structured Operational Research and Training Initiative (SORT IT), a former MSF-participant and research fellow has obtained a PHD-degree in operational research.

    Dr. Mohammed Khogali’s academic success story spans from 2010 to 2018, and starts in the remote, dry regions of Southern Ethiopia. Here, the Sudanese medical doctor was working with MSF when he was accepted to participate in a Structured Operational Research and Training Initiative (SORT IT) training.

    Hands-on Research Training

    SORT-IT is an output oriented training approach that closely mentors candidates over the course of three one-week modules. The first week is dedicated to developing a research protocol, the second to data collection and analysis, and the third module focuses on writing-up and submitting results to a peer-reviewed journal.

    Developed from trainings conceptualized by MSF and The Union in 2009, the model is since 2012 recognized and coordinated by the Special Programme for Research and Training in Tropical Diseases (TDR) at the World Health Organization (WHO).

    Malaria and TB in Ethiopia

    Mohammed’s first SORT IT-study sought to improve how malaria can be detected in malnourished children in Ethiopia.  The preliminary data analysis showed that 90% of children in nutritional rehabilitation centers were not properly checked for fever, and a majority of malaria cases were therefore neither recorded nor treated. Diagnosing was consequently, adapted and treatments improved. The study was published a year later in Public Health Action journal. 

    Over the following years, Mohammed’s interest and passion for operational research grew rapidly. As a research fellow with MSF, he conducted and published over 50 studies on various health system issues in 25 countries. He also became a mentor for other researchers in Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Pacific and Eastern Europe.

    SORT IT provided me with a unique opportunity to build practical skills in conducting research while continuing to work in the field.

    PHD in Operational Research

    Mohammed’s PHD thesis remained focus on how to improve access to health care among vulnerable populations in Ethiopia. Other studies in his thesis included how to improve diagnoses and treatment of tuberculosis amongst nomadic pastoralists, and whether offering incentives to pregnant women to attend antenatal clinics have an impact on attendance.

    “SORT IT provided me with a unique opportunity to build practical skills in conducting research while continuing to work in the field”, Dr Mohammed Khogali said at the celebration of his PhD degree at the Radboud University in Nijmegen, Holland at the end of March.

    “Mohammed Khogali’s success is a great personal achievement and shows how fruitful our dedicated capacity building efforts for operational research are”, said Walter Kizito, Research Coordinator with MSF’s Operational Research Unit LuxOR.

    “A PHD degree offers an opportunity for individuals who are passionate about operational research to earn an internationally recognized academic degree”, Dr Rony Zachariah, TDR’s SORT IT coordinator, added.

    Dr. Khogali continues to pursue various operational research projects around the world, and several of his fellow operational researchers are looking to follow his success and submit their PHD thesis in the near future.  

    *Header Image: MSF malnutrition treatment at Fiq hospital in Ethiopia. Screening for fever proved key to recognize malaria cases and support treatment of malnourishment accordingly. Photo: Matthias Steinbach/MSF