U of T Faculty Volunteer to Help Remote Brazilian University Build its First Qualitative Health Research Program

November 27/2019

by Françoise Makanda, Communications Officer at DLSPH

Four years ago, Rozilaine Redi Lago was a visiting PhD student at U of T’s Centre for Critical Qualitative Health Research (CQ).

She was eager to develop a similar program at the Federal University of Acre (UFAC) in Brazil. After graduating, she taught UFAC’s only qualitative research course, but needed additional support to develop a robust research methods program. Now, she will with some help from DLSPH Professors Denise Gastaldo and Brenda Gladstone.

“She created a group which included her colleagues from several faculties who had training in qualitative research and said, ‘please come here to help us get started,’” says Gastaldo, who is also an Associate Professor at the Lawrence S. Bloomberg Faculty of Nursing.

Brazil’s Amazonian region desperately needs qualitative public health training. UFAC offers the region’s only public health PhD program with a single quantitative focus. The resource-starved region faces serious and complex public health issues that require both research approaches.

“While they have been monitoring endemic diseases like malaria, dengue and leprosy, they also need information on social and cultural practices to create more effective programs to prevent and treat these diseases,” says Gastaldo, who is the former CQ director.

Centre: Rector Dr. Margarida de Aquino Cunha, with Dr. Rozilaine Redi Lago (academic host) and Dr. Denise Gastaldo (AWS volunteer and associate professor, DLSPH/UofT) and colleagues from the Faculty of Public Health.

Also, access to care is an ongoing issue. Large rivers surround the equatorial region. Intemperate weather hampers patients’ ability to access care. It is also home to 20,000 Indigenous residents who speak over 15 languages and observe various health-related cultural norms.

As Academics Without Borders (AWB) volunteers, Professors Gastaldo and Gladstone will offer their time and expertise to assist Redi Lago to develop UFAC and the region’s first and only academic qualitative health research program.

AWB is a Canadian not-for-profit organization that works with universities in low-and-middle income countries on capacity building projects that improve or expand existing institutional programs. The AWB Network, a consortium of Canadian universities and colleges that support AWB’s mission, offers academics opportunities to participate in capacity building projects as volunteers or introduce projects to AWB.

The network also connects these universities’ needs with the network’s participating university experts. The network’s first U of T volunteers will support the Brazilian university with more and better qualitative research training opportunities.

“They are one of the top public health programs in the region, and that’s why they were eager to have better collaboration,” says Gastaldo.

She has supported administrators as they developed an educational plan. Now, the UFAC’s program coordinators are discussing the establishment of Masters and PhD level courses.  In the coming months, both DLSPH professors will work with instructors and students to develop a new curriculum.

“We have high hopes for this collaboration. We expect students will become supervisors and teachers in Acre and in the Amazon region.  CQ interdisciplinary curriculum is an inspiration for graduate programs in other countries. There are great opportunities for high quality qualitative research to be conducted in Acre in the near future,” says Gastaldo.