Student Support Series: DPhil student Helene-Mari Van Der Westhuizen at International Lung Union Conference
For course-related fieldwork and conference funding, Green Templeton students can apply for Competitive Conference and Fieldwork Funding (CCFF). In the run up to Giving Day on the 5 and 6 February 2020, we’ve spoken to some of our students who have secured this funding to hear more about the work and experiences it contributes to.
Helene-Mari Van Der Westhuizen, (DPhil in Primary Health Care, 2018) from The Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences, was awarded CCFF funding which contributed to travel expenses to attend the International Lung Union Conference in Hyderabad, India. She told us about her experiences at the largest gathering of researchers, civil society representatives and policy makers on Tuberculosis and Lung disease:
“My doctoral research is about preventing the spread of TB in health facilities. Health workers in high TB burden countries are developing TB disease at rates three times higher than the general population. This demonstrates that TB is spreading in health facilities. At the conference I presented on a panel discussion about combining TB infection prevention and control with strong occupational health services and offering treatment for latent TB infection to health workers. I had two perspectives, one a researcher in the area, but secondly being a doctor from South Africa, also representing other health workers in high TB burden countries.
In my research there is a tension between a ‘public health’ approach to TB – viewing it as a threat to public safety and requiring ‘control measures’ like using masks and isolation – and ‘person-centred care’ approach that takes a broader view of the experience of being ill with TB and emphasises shared decision-making.
At the conference it was interesting to hear similar debates in other TB-related areas. For example, Directly Observed Therapy (DOTs) was considered to be the gold standard of TB for many years, expecting patients to come to health facilities every working day to take their treatment while being observed. A Cochrane review has recently made a negative recommendation for the use of DOTs, but now newer tools with similar underlying principles have emerged. These include video DOTs, where patients record videos of themselves swallowing their tablets and wirelessly observed therapy that involves an ingestible sensor. Video DOTs still represents a reductionist view of why people affected by TB struggle to take treatment and fails to address the medical, socioeconomic and psychological reasons for loss to follow up. This include food insecurity, pressure to return to work and being stigmatised for having TB.
Attending the conference was a great opportunity to meet leading researchers in the field, receive feedback on ideas related to my thesis, re-engage with colleagues who are also part of the advocacy organisation TB Proof and meet policy makers in TB programmes.”