I immediately notice that both Mary and Linda are very competent. Following my instructions, they learn very quickly on how to use the phones to collect patient data in our app, how to take blood samples with paper filter, and how to properly ask the relevant questions so that there is no bias in the participants’ responses. As Mary takes a blood sample from the mother using a lancet, a cat walks over to sniff the filter paper almost to the touch. I gasp and I reach out to hold the cat and ask them not to let anyone touch the filter paper without gloves… especially the cat! They laugh, they translate the joke to the mother, and she laughs too.
After we visit a household “with yaws”, we always have to find a “control” house, meaning a house with no children infected with yaws, where we collect the exact same data in order to compare the samples and the answers obtained in both groups of houses. We repeat the entire process with two more “yaws houses” and their corresponding controls. It takes us several hours to search the houses, find the targeted population, explain the study, ask for permission, and sign consents, in addition to performing the study procedures. At about 2pm. we get back in the car, exhausted and hungry, and drive back to the health centre. On the way there we meet a group of men picking fresh coconuts. We stop and buy a coconut for everyone for about 20 cents of a Euro each. There are about 300ml of fresh water that we all knock back in seconds. After that, a tall boy of around 17 years old opens the coconuts for us with a huge knife and with incredible skill improvises a “spoon” with a piece of each coconut to be able to eat the fleshy inside.
It is Thursday, and since most government workers go back to their homes for the weekend on Friday morning, Becca and I return to Accra, where we will rest until Sunday in a small hotel downtown and enjoy one (or two, or three) cold beers, Wi-Fi and air conditioning day and night, apparently my new priorities in life.
That evening, as I’m discussing with Becca over an extra loaded gin and tonic what a crappy week we have had finding cases, how hard it is to work under this conditions (Covid-19 scenario) and how I would like a break from the field and have a more “normal” routine in Barcelona doing research, I get a WhatsApp from my boss: “New project to validate a new protein recombinant Covid-19 vaccine, N of 10.000 to implement in Ghana, are you in?” I immediately answer him: “hell yes!”. I look at my phone thinking, “what the hell is wrong with me??”- I guess the truth is I wouldn’t give up this job for the world.
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