Kirsten Borbrow

Kirsten is a post-doctoral researcher with the Chronic Diseases Initiative for Africa, and is completing her registrar training in public health at the University of Cape Town. Her career has taken her across the globe, completing her undergraduate medical training at the University of Cape Town and her MSc in Global Health and DPhil in Epidemiology with the Cancer Epidemiology Unit at the University of Oxford. She is currently working on research into how mobile phones can improve management and outcomes in people with chronic diseases in low resource settings. Kirsten works in the Western Cape Department of Health.

Tell us a little more about the project you are working on.
Our project is a randomised clinical trial at three sites in sub-Saharan Africa: Cape Town and Johannesburg in South Africa and Lilongwe in Malawi. We are aiming to provide information about the overall benefits and harms of sending carefully developed messages via SMS text messaging to tell people about the benefits of their diabetes treatment and provide patients with reminders and encouragement to take it regularly. We will follow people for 12 months and measure important risk factors for the development of complications in diabetes, including blood glucose control and blood pressure control so we can then estimate potential health benefits, and the costs of doing this, whilst considering cost-effectiveness.

How has being part of GACD helped your research?
As an individual researcher, I have really benefitted from meeting and working with other GACD researchers in various working groups. Our research has benefited from the supported working groups, where we’ve been able to share ideas on the development of standardised data collection tools, share intervention ideas and swap testing methodologies that have worked for others in similar low resource settings.

What is the most rewarding aspect of your work?
Having the time and space to think about big global health challenges and the opportunity to work locally to test ideas and explore solutions.

What tips do you have for early career researchers trying to establish international collaborations?
Make contact with the people and teams who you would like to work with in terms of skills as well as content area. Be patient, it can take time to find a project that is a good fit and that gets funded.

Apart from the project, what are your other passions in life?
I live in Cape Town, which is beautiful and full of opportunity for outdoor adventure. I enjoy running, hiking and swimming on the mountain and ocean. I have a small dog and we spend our free time exploring the peninsula.

What motivated you to follow this global health career path?
As a young graduate student I went to a lecture by Sir Richard Peto on global health. And to paraphrase him, he said he wasn’t concerned with hundreds of people or even thousands of people, he was interested in improving outcomes for millions of people. I was really struck by this idea especially having come from a clinical setting where strategy and thinking are largely about individual patients. It also helped me realise that I wanted to be an epidemiologist.

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