Operational research (OR) plays a key role in designing successful MSF programmes around the world. No two OR studies are alike, with humanitarian challenges ranging from protracted migration crises to infectious or non-communicable diseases, various research methods and implementation strategies in use. In a short video series, MSF field staff and researchers discuss their latest research projects, what they found, and how the results improve the work on the ground.
In prisons, amid sex workers, and during the Ebola-epidemic
Alongside MSF’s programmes, operational research projects are set up in some of the most adverse and difficult to reach places. In Malawi, MSF Medical Coordinator Reinaldo Ortuño Gutierrez documented the prevalence and transmission risks of tuberculosis in two heavily overcrowded prisons. “We also managed to prove the added-value of using a mobile x-ray for better tuberculosis screening in prisons,” he added.
To prevent HIV-infections with sex workers in Mozambique, MSF in 2016 started a pilot study distributing pre-exposure prophylaxis. “The results here were amazing,” recounted José Carlos Beirão, an Operational Research Manager with MSF’s mission in Mozambique. “We found high demand and acceptability of the drugs, as people are demanding additional protection to condoms.”
In West Africa, another OR-study looks at an unconventional measure taken at the height of the 2014/2015 Ebola outbreak, when treatment centres became so overcrowded they could no longer admit patients: “We documented the implementation and feasibility of distributing household disinfection kits in Liberia,” explained Engy Ali, a researcher with the LuxOR Operational Research Unit.
Physiotherapy for victims of sexual violence, diabetes care for Syrian refugees
Another innovative project is at the heart of a research project in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, offering physiotherapy as a complementary treatment for victims of sexual violence. “The research findings confirmed what our clinicians were already seeing,” said MSF Head of Mission Julia Paulsson-Jandl. “The integration of physiotherapy into the care package was able to considerably reduce pain and improve the quality of living with victims of sexual violence.”
Krystel Moussally, an epidemiologist with MSF, conducted yet another study on a widespread non-communicable disease: “We compiled all available data on Syrian refugees presenting with diabetes at MSF clinics in Jordan and Lebanon, and we recorded a clearly positive outcome of our offered care over the course of six months,” she explained.
A different perspective on migration
There are also research projects looking to better understand the patterns and challenges of the migration crises in and around Europe. At the humanitarian hub in Brussels, were MSF is offering mental health to migrants transiting Belgium, Umberto Pellecchia is working on a study to better understand migration patterns and living conditions in the city (interview). “We are looking to raise awareness for their suffering, but also to demonstrate to governmental actors that it is possible to offer migrants the necessary services and care,” the MSF anthropologist said.
In Sweden, another destination country project explored a gap in mental health care, MSF Operations Coordinator Tomas Thiels explained: “We were convinced that there was huge gap for mental health care and psychosocial care for for migrants in reception centres, and we wanted to prevent people from ending up in total isolation or psychiatric care.”
The video interviews were shot and produced in Brussels in June 2018 in preparation of the Operational Research Day.
*Header picture: In the MENA region, operational research helped assess physiotherapy as an effective additional treatment for victims of sexual violence. © Sima Diab/MSF