Naomi Waithira: Why data management matters
Research is only as good as the evidence it generates, and data management is a critical part of this process since it supports findings. High quality data must be preserved for long term use and available to the research community. Ultimately, data is not about numbers, but about people's lives and health.
Naomi Waithira: My work is mainly around creating data collection tools and creating databases for storage of information that is collected, and ensuring that the data that is stored can be preserved for long term use and is in a format that usable to a wider research community. The data should live even 50-100 years into the future, and the information that we're developing right now should be used to support the evidence that we generate and can be looked back at in the many years to come. We collect data even beyond malaria, so we do have data that comes from other tropical diseases such as melioidosis; we also have data that is generated by diagnostic laboratories. And we have data from TB, from HIV, we have epidemiological survey data – so it's quite a wide array of information that we collect and use.
Q: What are the challenges that you face?
NW: With the recent developments in technology, we have a lot of new tools that have been developed to promote better collection of data and production of higher quality data. We are trying to ensure that we use these internationally defined standards in the way we collect, in the way we define and in the way we store our data. This enables our data to be useable by a wider community and to be beneficial and applied into different settings.
Q: Why should we fund your work, why is it important?
NW: The findings that are generated by research are as strong as the evidence that is supplied along with the findings. This evidence is generated from the data that is collected during the period that the research is conducted. Therefore, data management is a critical part of the research activity because we want to generate evidence that can strongly support the findings that the research comes up with. That's why data management should be funded.
Q: What do like about working at MORU?
NW: By working at MORU I’ve been able to interact with researchers and groups that are working in different areas of research. Because of that I have expanded my view of research and been able to come up with even better measures of running data management that is applicable along a wider area of research.
Q: How does your work fit into translational medicine within the department?
NW: I am a Kenyan by origin. I came to work in Thailand and found, for one, it's quite similar to the situation and settings that we have in Kenya and other African countries around the tropics. The diseases are similar. The amount of work we do in Africa is translatable into the Asian context.
Working in MORU has given me a unique opportunity to visit the sites and to be able to interact with the patients and see them. For me, seeing those patients, coming in initially very ill and you'd see a sick child and at the follow up visit they'd come back, they would be different, they are more active, healthier and happier. That for me changes the whole thing about research. It's no longer about numbers, it’s about people’s lives. I am able to see the impact of my work and that is motivational, because then I want to even do better so that future generations do not have to go through this kind of diseases and we will be able to eliminate these diseases and find better ways to diagnose these diseases.
This interview was recorded in March 2016