Finishing up at MCDI

At the tallest point on Bioko Island- El Pico.
At the tallest point on Bioko Island- El Pico.


It’s hard to believe it’s been over a month since my internship ended. I’ve been putting off writing this last blog for a while now due to a busy schedule and ongoing self-reflection.  Before my internship, I had a set of learning goals that I wished to, and did, accomplish: I spoke Spanish on a daily basis and continued to challenge myself throughout each day of my summer.  I learned the basics behind a data-collecting program and worked with various medical professionals in the clinical trial setting.  However, I also accomplished many tasks that I didn’t set goals for: I learned the difference between three species of mosquitoes and the difference between a male and female mosquito.  I learned what a good Standard Operating Procedure looks like. I also grew more comfortable expressing my ideas to my colleagues.

In the last few weeks I’ve been asked countless times what I did over the summer.  Now that I’ve had time to reflect on my summer experience I now know how great of an opportunity this was for me.  I am determined to pursue a career in the public health area and have looked at classes at Brandeis I can apply my new knowledge to.  I also recently met another CA that is a part of a Nothing but Nets chapter on campus that I hope to join this year.  I’m very excited to keep in touch with my summer colleagues and to learn about the progress that is happening in Malabo.  I know now that even the little things that I did were a part of a great cause.  It’s very motivating to think that I was a part of a clinical trial for a potential malaria vaccine.

My advice for other interns is to be flexible! There were multiple times during my internship that I felt like my expectations of myself and my internship were not being met.  It is during these times that you will learn something new about yourself and about “the working life.” MCDI was a great organization to work with and I encourage all interested people to apply to be an intern at one of their various sites.  Working in a country that you are not accustomed to and in a field where the territory is new (like implementing a vaccine trial) can be frustrating at times.  However, it is important to always carry a positive attitude and an open mind.  I met some amazing and inspiring people during my internship that will continue to motivate me throughout my career.

In Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, MCDI concentrates on preventing malaria transmission through indoor spraying, bed net distribution and education as well as implementing a malaria vaccine trial with the PfSPZ vaccine created by Sanaria.  During my internship, I had a chance to accompany the spray team to one of the remote villages that they visit.  It was then that I learned that malaria, although a huge issue, was not as important to the community members of this village as it was to MCDI. Many members complained of their lack of clean water, electricity and stable houses and protested MCDI’s attempt to spray the houses because they lacked more essential items.  It is difficult to pursue social justice in one area when there are other areas that need help too.  It is important that we as individuals work together to provide social justice in all areas.  All aspects of social justice are as equally as important as others.  I know that I won’t be able to help everyone in the world, but I am determined to help in whatever area I specialize in and strive to understand and listen to those that I work with and for.  Before I started writing this blog I felt as if it would be the end of my internship experience; however I am now more excited than ever to see where this experience will take me next.  Thanks to everyone who helped me get here.

Last staff photo!
Last staff photo!

– Jesse Knowles

Midpoint at MCDI

In the beginning of my internship, I was overwhelmed by the new faces and names that were thrown at me on a daily basis, and probably like every other new intern, nervous of my reception. However, now I have made good friends in both the Bioko Island Malaria Control Project and the Equatorial Guinea Malaria Vaccine Initiative and everyday I learn more about them. I look forward to the morning greetings, the daily giggles, the invitations to eat lunch in a coworker’s apartment, and the conversations on the ride home with the BIMCP driver who is always “on his way” and 15 minutes late. In fact, the relationships I’ve built with my diverse coworkers is my proudest accomplishment so far.

Our latest #africanwearfriday photo!

I was lucky enough to grow up a traveler and because of that I am always eager to try new things, constantly carrying an open mind on my shoulders. During my time here, I have seen my coworkers appreciate this quality about me, and have opened up to me because of it. I think that’s a very important lesson that I’ve learned when working in a different country, and it can lead to not only great relationships, but also a greater exploration in the country you are working in and in the job that you are working for.

On a daily basis I take on many roles: translator, computer technician, listener, supporter, assistant, creator, editor, student, and teacher. However, I can monitor my steady progress when I reflect on my goals I set for myself before my internship started.

My first goal was to conquer the new data compiling system. During my internship I have had the chance to test the system at different levels and typed up summary reports of the errors and suggestions I had. I have been able to make a good impact on the system and have even met with the system’s supervisor and developer that came to visit EG. It was great to suggest my ideas in person and be involved in meetings regarding the development of the system.

Even though it was planned that I be a part of a running clinical trial; I have learned that clinical trials don’t always go according to plan. Therefore, over the past weeks I’ve been concentrating on pre-clinical trial work. Recently, I’ve been nose deep in formatting, editing, and reviewing study documents (general, lab, clinical, hospital). I also created a map of patient flow during the clinical trial, participated in an HIV counseling training in Spanish and aided in nurse recruitment. I have also improved my Spanish during my stay here, constantly breaking outside my comfort zone. I’ve proof read and translated documents as well as assisted in translation between teams.

Right now, I’m planning on taking a gap year between undergrad and medical school. After working at MCDI for some time I would love to work for MCDI during the gap year. I’m thankful to have already made great friends and connections. Although, I’m not certain of what I would like to do after medical school, I have reconfirmed my desire to work overseas and have decided that I want to pursue an MD/MPH degree as well. Although finding myself is going to be a long journey, I’m glad that I’ve started to take a few steps!

Creciendo Sin Paludismo- Growing Up Without Malaria


– Jessenia Knowles ’15

My First Week at MCDI

Malaria is a disease of poverty that affects approximately 207 million people around the world and results in 627,000 deaths per year.  Malaria is transmitted by an infected female Anopheles mosquito (only female mosquitoes bite humans!) that transmits the Plasmodium sporozoite to humans through its salivary glands. The parasite then begins to replicate in the liver and travels into the blood stream where it eventually bursts.  The fever and chills that are chronicled in malaria cases result from this burst.  The malaria life cycle depends on this transmission between mosquito and human to survive. Therefore, to prevent and eradicate malaria this cycle must be broken.

This summer I am working with Medical Care Development International (MCDI) at their Malabo, Equatorial Guinea site.  MCDI is a sector of MCD, an NGO located in Maine that focuses on enhancing the well-being of peoples and communities in developing nations in the areas of health and socio-economic development.  MCDI accomplishes this mission by empowering people with the knowledge and behavior necessary to improve health care in quality and quantity so that it is affordable to the neediest people in the world.  In Malabo, MCDI has two ongoing Malaria control projects.  The Bioko Island Malaria Control Project (BIMCP) concentrates on reducing, monitoring and exploring malaria cases that occur on Bioko Island, Equatorial Guinea. While the Equatorial Guinea Malaria Vaccine Initiative (EGMVI) is working on implementing one of the first malaria vaccine clinical trials in the world, with the use of Sanaria’s PfSPZ vaccine.

The EGMVI team on my first "African Wear Friday"
The EGMVI team on my first “African Wear Friday”

Although during my internship I will be working closer with the latter project, within the last week I have spent time with both projects to familiarize myself with MCDI’s overall mission here on Bioko Island.

During my first week with MCDI, I have worked with different departments and have taken on a variety of tasks.  I recently completed a Good Clinical Practice course, so that I have more background knowledge on EGMVI’s clinical trial process.  I have also contributed in conference calls and worked with a Data Program.  I also spent a day with the Entomology lab where I learned about malaria transmission, the life cycle of the mosquito, how to identify different genera of mosquitoes and helped contribute to a toxicity experiment where two chemicals used to repel mosquitoes were tested for their effectiveness.  Most recently I helped input survey data brought back from MCDI’s spraying team.

Here we are setting up an experiment to test the effectiveness of two different insecticides
Here we are setting up an experiment to test the effectiveness of two different insecticides

In the fall of last year my family moved to Malabo.  Although I had looked into a variety of internships that were located in the U.S. for this summer I decided to switch my search to possible internship opportunities in my new home.  I was informed of MCDI, their mission and their malaria control projects on the Island through a community connection. I was very interested in MCDI’s mission and took this as an opportunity to explore possible career options in the combination of public health, research and the medical sector.

Within the last week, I have bounced a bit between the two malaria control projects.  However, I am so grateful for the experience and knowledge that I have gained.  Without this foundation of knowledge about basics of malaria and malaria control I would be completely lost during the remainder of my internship! All of the staff members at MCDI have taken time to explain the building blocks of MCDI’s mission in EG and have taken care of me in every way.  I am really excited to learn more and make deeper relationships in the next 7 weeks.

In the remainder of my internship I hope to improve and become more confident in my Spanish (which is slowly but surely coming back to me!) as well as explore career paths.  The amazing things the selfless people at MCDI do to give back to their surrounding community has really impacted me and has made me think about even more ways I can use my future to help others.  I hope that, through the knowledge that I continue to gain about malaria, the causes, effects, prevention and possible eradication methods will help me refine my career goals.

– Jesse Knowles ’15