Health Research in Togo: An Introduction

3 minute read

Hi! I’m Alicia, and I’ve been living in Kara, Togo working with Hope Through Health (HTH), an NGO providing high-quality health care to underserved populations in northern Togo. For the past 10 years, HTH has focused on HIV care, but in 2015 we launched a three-year Maternal and Child Health (MCH) pilot program bringing community-based care to one urban and three rural communities in our region, with a goal of reducing child mortality by 90%.

My role here has been conducting research to evaluate the impact of this pilot program, so that hopefully after three years we have compelling enough results to advocate for the adoption of this highly effective and cost-efficient community-based system on a national scale. In January 2015 I organized the baseline research, during which we conducted qualitative interviews and focus groups with 40 community members and leaders as well as a 2,000-household quantitative survey. Our plan is to repeat this household survey each year until the end of the pilot program to measure the effect of the intervention.

survey on tablet
survey on tablet
Ambroise, one of our data collectors, conducting a survey on his tablet. Photo courtesy of Alicia

Managing the 2015 baseline survey was a huge undertaking, especially since I had never done research on this scale before. I hired a team of 15 Togolese data collectors and coordinated daily task ranging from transportation, sleeping arrangements and food for the data collectors, to exploring every foot-path by motorcycle to find all of the houses within the limits of our zones, to supervising surveys and doing daily checks of all of the surveys to ensure the quality of our data. I learned an incredible amount, and had so much fun exploring these new communities that we’ll be involved in for the next couple of years.

This January, it was time for the second iteration of our household survey, but my role was slightly different. I hired my best data collector from last year, a woman named Agnès, to become the next research coordinator and spent this year’s survey training her to take over for me, both for the following two iterations of the household survey and for any additional research projects Hope Through Health might take on in the future. The biggest change we made is transitioning from paper surveys last year to electronic surveys on tablets, using KoBoToolbox, innovative open-source data collection software designed specifically for humanitarian and aid work in settings like rural Togo.

Alicia and a data collector
Alicia and a data collector
Me working with Rouki, one of our data collectors, during the new tablet training. Photo courtesy of Alicia

My work over the past couple months has had three main guiding principles:

  • Sustainability
  • Capacity building
  • High data quality

By training a Togolese woman in research management, the work that HTH does will be more sustainable, since they won’t have to rely on short-term foreign volunteers coming in to do technically complex projects and then leaving. Now that many of our staff members and data collectors have training and experience using KoBoToolbox on tablets, the clinic is set up to introduce more electronic data collection systems into the workflow. And, most tangibly, using these electronic tools removes a lot of the human error that decreases the quality and usability of our data. Stay tuned to more updates on how this year’s research went!

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