UW News

August 21, 2008

Pharmacy student receives fellowship to target Uganda’s health

By Melinda Young
School of Pharmacy

School of Pharmacy Ph.D. candidate Joseph Babigumira recently got a boost in his effort to improve the reproductive health of women and girls in his native country of Uganda.

The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and the Institute of International Education (IIE) granted him a $40,000 dissertation fellowship.

Babigumira’s dissertation will look at the economic impact of unsafe, induced abortion in Uganda. Terminating a pregnancy is illegal in the East African country. This means, according to Babigumira, “a lot of young girls there are dying trying to get them.”

He knows it’s a controversial topic, especially in a country where approximately 70 percent of the population is Catholic or Anglican, according to a 2002 study of the Uganda Bureau of Statistics. As such, Babigumira intends to approach his research carefully — focusing on measuring the cost of these unsafe procedures on the health care system.

“There’s a lot of lost life, lost productivity and suffering because of these procedures,” he said. If he can quantify the cost of this social problem, he added, it could make policymakers in Uganda and perhaps in other African countries in similar situations start prioritizing the need to find solutions. One solution he intends to highlight is how to better implement programs that encourage the use of contraceptives. He hopes that in the long term his research can play a role in helping to prevent unintended pregnancies from happening in the first place.

Because people who have unplanned pregnancies may also be more likely to contract HIV, Babigumira will also assess that connection and its implications in his research.

The two-year fellowship he received from the Hewlett Foundation and IIE is awarded to Ph.D. candidates studying population, reproductive health and economic development. Only a handful of students across the country received one of these fellowships.

A student in the School of Pharmacy’s Pharmaceutical Outcomes Research and Policy Program, Babigumira has a bachelor’s degree in medicine and surgery from Mbarara University in Uganda and a master’s degree in health services research from Case Western Reserve University.