From Latin America to London: Vector-Born Disease Research

Catalina Gonzalez is currently working on her PhD in London but that’s not where she started. Back in her home country of Colombia, Catalina began her research by working with the indigenous and peasant populations there studying vector-born diseases like dengue, which is widespread in the tropics. Her qualitative work involved going into small villages and talking with the people who lived there. There is funding available for this type of research work in Colombia, which aside from her interest in enhancing the quality of life for people there, is one of the reasons she conducted research in this area.

Her current research looks at trends of socioeconomic inequalities in women’s sexual and reproductive health, an area of work that is especially relevant to her personally and something she is able to do because she is in the UK where there is funding money for projects like these. Back home in Colombia not only is there little funding for these types of projects, but because Catholicism is the country’s dominant religion, digging into sexuality issues is uncomfortable at best. Her work in London is quantitative as it involves analyzing data sets during a time of political reform and civil conflict in Colombia (from 1990 to 2005.) She values this work and the results it brings highly but for someone who considers herself an anthropologist, it is difficult to not get out of the office for her work. She is learning a lot, however by engaging in these new ways of research and from the highly trained professionals around here. Just to give you an idea of how stimulating the environment is, Michael Marmot is head of her department! And a resource she’s been able to take advantage of in London are the numerous opportunities for seminars with professionals around the world engaged in all types of research.

Culturally, working in London is different too from her experiences in Colombia. She’s learned that heated research discussions can place for the good of the research and are not personal attacks. “As long as we have different opinions we find a way to discuss what we think and how we think: there’ll be more room for research. If we all agree on the same things then research is over. We can’t try anything else.” From Catalina’s perspective, her fellow researchers in the UK are better at finding and teaching her the balance of dialogue and this has been invaluable to her growth.

When I asked her if she thought she would go back to Colombia, she said she would ideally like to go back but if she was unable to return, she definitely wanted to continue in work surrounding Colombia and Latin American socioeconomic issues. She also would like to do more work to merge the qualitative and quantitative fields as both are necessary to produce policy changes that actually have an effect on the lives of the people living there. And researching women’s reproductive health is not so different from researching dengue in Latin America, she reminds me, as it basically comes down to people’s living conditions, the context in which they live their lives which can and should be improved.

To learn more about Catalina’s research work visit:

Published: September 2009

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