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Epidemiologist’s Survey Work Results in Better Interventions

  • Tigist Astale assists field teams during trachoma impact surveys in Ethiopia’s Amhara region. As a Carter Center epidemiologist, her work includes securing ethical clearance from relevant oversight bodies, organizing trainings for trachoma graders, and working out the logistics required to move survey teams across many districts. (Photo: The Carter Center/ S. Nash)

Tigist Astale, an epidemiologist for The Carter Center in Ethiopia, has faced down angry dogs, runaway cattle, and crocodile-filled rivers. She supervises extensive field work in far-flung locations all over the Amhara region of Ethiopia, a region with a considerable burden of trachoma. Because of her commitment to gathering quality data, the trachoma control program continues to implement effective interventions to help reduce blindness in Amhara.

Tigist grew up in Debre Tabor town in South Gondar zone of Amhara, and she completed secondary school in Addis Ababa. Later, she attended Jimma University in Ethiopia with a focus on health promotion. As a university student, she participated in community-based education, research, and teaching. She later received her master’s degree in global health from Maastricht University in the Netherlands. While there, she focused her attention on the epidemiology of acute respiratory infection in children.

In her current role with The Carter Center, Tigist supervises surveys that assess the impact of program interventions. This includes securing ethical clearance from relevant oversight bodies, organizing trainings for trachoma graders, and working out the logistics required to move survey teams across many districts spread throughout the Amhara region. These surveys often help the trachoma control program improve its interventions.

“I always wanted a research position,” Tigist said. “I enjoy looking for more evidence for the program so we can make better decisions.”

Monitoring trachoma-related outcomes over a region as rural as Amhara comes with challenges.

“The main challenge is accessing rural homes when there are no roads that reach the villages,” Tigist said. “In some situations, survey teams walk 10 hours or more through woods and over mountains to access the villages.”

Then there are the dogs.

“Dogs cause problems, particularly in rural highlands where every household owns a dog to guard their home,” says Tigist. During a recent survey, Tigist faced down three angry dogs while visiting a remote household.

Despite these issues, Tigist said she is proud of the work her survey teams do, and she remains committed to reducing the burden of trachoma in Ethiopia.

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