Faculty Perspectives: Lavanya Vasudevan

Lavanya Vasudevan

Lavanya Vasudevan, Assistant Professor of Community and Family Medicine, and Affiliate in the Center for Health Policy and Inequalities Research, Duke Global Health Institute

Bass Connections Project Teams: Interculturally Competent Analysis of the Uptake of Routine Vaccination; mHealth for Better Routine Immunization Data in Honduras; and Vaccine Misinformation and Its Link to Vaccine Hesitancy and Uptake in Durham

Data+ Summer Project: Vaccine Hesitancy and Uptake

Globally, vaccines are one of the most cost-effective interventions to prevent mortality in children under five. However, preventable illnesses continue to pose a threat in regions and populations where coverage of vaccines is sub-optimal. Reasons for sub-optimal vaccine coverage are multifactorial – ranging from lack of availability of vaccines, poor quality of vaccination services and data, to low demand for vaccines by concerned parents.

In recent years, many public health initiatives have begun to leverage growing mobile phone network and access to promote vaccination uptake, for instance, by sending text message reminders to families about upcoming vaccination appointments and tracking vaccination histories electronically.

In 2015-16, Vasudevan led a Bass Connections project team that analyzed the uptake of routine childhood vaccination services in Kumasi, Ghana, and Roatán, Honduras. Team members traveled to both sites to assess the attitudes and practices affecting vaccine uptake as well as mobile phone ownership and use.

In 2017-18, a follow-on team comprising students and faculty from computer science and global health partnered with Clínica Esperanza, a low-cost provider of medical services in Roatán, to build and test an Android app for recording and streamlining vaccination data collection, access and storage. The app is currently in use in the clinic as part of its routine vaccination workflow.

With a new team in 2018-19, Vasudevan hopes to explore parental concerns toward vaccines right here in Durham.

Below are excerpts from Vasudevan’s remarks at a Bass Connections information session for faculty.

Practice and pedagogy

Our 2015-16 team had related research and pedagogical goals. The research goal was to conduct a comprehensive analysis of vaccination practices in Honduras and Ghana in order to identify, compare and contrast barriers to vaccine uptake. Due to our focus on two diverse international settings, we identified the pedagogical goal of building skills in intercultural competence as a critical component of our project.

Building a team

We worked with a four-student team with backgrounds in medicine, biomedical sciences, biology, global health, chemistry and math. Our team benefitted from establishing a set of protocols early in the process. We talked as a group about communication expectations and took advantage of the team-building resources on the Bass Connections website. We created a team charter, set up a list of team norms and created a collaborative syllabus – all things that we were really proud of. Our students worked in sub-teams, one focused on Ghana and one on Honduras, each with one senior-level and one less-experienced student. This allowed the students to clearly define and assign goals at the sub-team level, while being able to each contribute substantially to the overall project.

Engagement and reflection

At both of our sites, students completed a wide range of research activities including surveys, observations, focus groups and interviews that included global stakeholders and healthcare providers doing work in the area. We also created a template for intercultural reflection, with the students sharing what they did well and what they would want others engaging in the Bass Connections process and international fieldwork to know.

The relationships and reputation that the students built during their fieldwork abroad really helped us think about subsequent iterations of the project. In Ghana, our students worked with a local partner for language and research support. In Honduras, we partnered with Clínica Esperanza who we’re continuing to work with to implement our vaccination app.

Personally for me, the best part about the experience has been the new connections with students, faculty and community partners, with whom I would otherwise not have had the opportunity to interact. The influx of new ideas and perspectives has been enriching, and it is very exciting to consider the new avenues of research that have opened up as a result.

See other faculty perspectives and learn how you can get involved in Bass Connections.