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Informing Public Health With Evidence


Engage Africa Foundation works with future public health leaders to mentor them in public health as it relates to chronic disease prevention and control. Through their practicums, their grow in their understanding of and ability to contribute to emerging public health challenges. One of those students is Afnan Ullah and she will be reflecting on her growth through monthly blogposts.


My name is Afnan Ullah and I am en route to completing my Masters of Health Evaluation degree from the University of Waterloo! This program requires me to apply the theoretical knowledgebase that I have gained throughout my coursework. I am fortunate to be able to complete my practicum with Engage Africa Foundation, where I will be undertaking a research project with the objective of understanding what makes an intervention effective for preventing and managing chronic non-communicable diseases in Africa. This project will culminate in a research report that will be communicated to stakeholders. 

As I have started my research for this project, I recently got reacquainted with the National Collaborating Centre for Methods and Tools (NCCMT) Learning Centre. This learning centre offers a number of modules and resources that supports evidence-informed public health. So far, I have looked into two modules: “Introduction to Evidence-Informed Decision Making” and “Searching for Research Evidence in Public Health”. The key take-away point from the first module is understanding that evidence-informed decision making in public health consists of 7 key steps:
1.     Define: clearly articulating the question or problem at hand;
2.     Search: efficiently and effectively searching for research evidence;
3.     Appraise: critically and efficiently appraising the information sources;
4.     Synthesize: how to interpret the research and form appropriate recommendations;
5.     Adapt: applying the information to the local context;
6.     Implement: identifying whether or not the research can be implemented into practice or policy; and
7.     Evaluate: assessing the effectiveness of the implementation efforts
Conveniently, there are individual modules that elaborate on each of these steps.
I want to speak a bit about the second module that I completed, “Searching for Research Evidence in Public Health”. This module touched on a number of elements regarding how to conduct the search, but specifically I want to focus on developing a search strategy. Once the question is formed and the appropriate key terms have been identified, it is then important to determine how to combine them using Boolean logic. The three Boolean operators are “and”, “or”, and “not”, based on the objective of the research. Another key learning point from this module was how to search natural language. For example, if one of the search term sis prevention, it is also important to consider other associated terms such as prevent, preventing, preventions, prevented, etc. This search term can then be truncated to the longest root of the term being searched – in this case, it would be prevent. Using an asterisk following the term, i.e. prevent*, the search will then encapsulate all results that references prevent in its different forms. 
I’m definitely learning a lot from this learning centre and look forward to incorporating it into my research with the Foundation. Oh - an added incentive to complete these modules – achieving a minimum of 75% on the tests at the end of each module provides you with a certificate of competence!

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