From a hospital in South Sudan to an HIV clinic in Myanmar to a clinic in the jungle of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Katie Whitehouse has been listening to communities, patients, and staff to help MSF provide better services. Although each setting is unique, a common theme has emerged: the importance of communication on all levels, whether the exchanges are between patients and healthcare workers, or between researchers and study populations.
To better understand a situation, it is important to hear from a variety of angles: patients, patient caregivers, staff working at MSF clinics, Ministry of Health partners, community and religious leaders, the logisticians, or the security personnel. Each person provides a unique perspective.
“Whilst most of our work is based on numbers, ratios, percentages or proportions, sometimes they don’t tell you what you need to know,” said Katie. “Sometimes to make sense of all that data, you need to ask people different kinds of questions, to listen to what people say and how they say it, and to watch what is happening.”
Katie emphasized that for humanitarian assistance to be effective, the approaches need to be continuously assessed and adapted to patients, whether it is by hiring more multilingual translators, talking with teenagers about HIV treatment, or by discussing treatments with malaria patients. To do that, Katie said, “We need to engage meaningfully with the populations we intend to assist. We need to ask our patients to share their experiences and opinions.”
Listening is a critical skill at every level of the exchange… Because some things you’ll only know if someone tells you. And maybe they’ll only tell you if you are prepared to listen.
Katie Whitehouse, qualitative researcher with LuxOR and SAMU