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"It broadened my perspective": interview with Dr. Jeannière Manegabe

Updated: Dec 15, 2023

Dr. Jeannière Manegabe works as a paediatrician at Panzi General Hospital, located in Bukavu, in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, as well as a research assistant and lecturer at The Evangelical University in Africa (Bukavu). Her focus lies primarily in infectious diseases among children, with recent research delving into the mortality factors associated with meningitis, etiologies of meningitis, and touching on topics including antibiotic resistance.

Having joined the Confederation of Meningitis Organisations (CoMO) in 2021, this November she was awarded a bursary funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and PATH to attend the Meningitis Research Foundation (MRF) scientific conference in London, where she presented a poster on her recent research. While there, CoMO Member Engagement Manager Sam Brightbart spoke to her about her experience of the conference, what brought her to CoMO in the first place, and what motivates her work.

Note: this interview was conducted in French before being translated into English.

What prompted you to join the Confederation of Meningitis Organisations?

I was conducting a literature review when I stumbled upon the CoMO website, and I realised how many common interests I had with other people in the global CoMO network. I was interested to see that there were members across the globe, including in my country, and I saw that CoMO could facilitate connections for me both locally and globally.

At about the same time, I discovered the World Health Organization (WHO)'s Global Road Map to Defeat Meningitis by 2030, which fuelled my desire to contribute to and be part of a collective effort to combat this disease. Being part of CoMO allows me to contribute to the broader conversation and amplify the voices of my region, aligning with the WHO's goals and supporting this global movement.

Although we do have several other doctors in the CoMO membership, many medics don't have the capacity to be part of meningitis advocacy efforts. Does anyone in your organisation work on raising awareness? If not, what made you decide that you wanted to be part of that kind of work?

No, my laboratory is currently not focused on meningitis communication and my work is more on the clinical side of things. But it was the pain of seeing children lose their lives to meningitis or suffer lifelong aftereffects and disability that made me understand the seriousness of meningitis and motivated me to engage further. There was one child in particular whom I treated for three weeks, but I couldn't save him. When he died, it was a real shock for me; I think it was the first time I cried because of what happened to a patient. That experience was like my baptism as a paediatrician – the stress and burden that I felt ultimately solidified my sense of my vocation. From that point on, meningitis felt personal to me, and I became passionate about contributing to the global effort to defeat it.

It's inspiring to see your passion for the topic.

Moving on to the MRF conference, how has it been beneficial for you as both a doctor and a member of CoMO?

This conference has been a significant milestone for me – and is a great addition to my CV. Initially, I didn't realise the extent of opportunities CoMO offered, but it's thanks to you that I became aware that I might be able to attend. Participating in the conference has broadened my perspective on meningitis research, giving me a much better overview of the research landscape (which is vast!), and even helping me identify potential PhD topics. I feel more strongly now that I want to focus on meningitis in my work, within the wider domain of infectious diseases.

The networking opportunities have also been amazing – the chance to meet people from organisations like the WHO, people working directly on the Road Map, or people from different universities around the world, is invaluable. Perhaps one of the people I have met could even be my future PhD supervisor!

Were there any challenges, particularly regarding language barriers during the conference?

It's true that as a native French speaker, adapting to an English-language environment was somewhat challenging. However, I have been able to understand the key information from the presentations and I haven't felt held back from communicating with any of the other attendees. The conference's phone application has also made networking easier – although my spoken English isn't bad, in writing I can communicate at my own pace, and the app makes it easy to find any of the other delegates or speakers.

Did the conference presentations offer any specific insights that will influence your future work?

The conference made me more keenly aware of some of the limitations in our country. Seeing advancements in meningitis diagnostic methods elsewhere has inspired me to explore implementing similar approaches in my region. Additionally, discussions on vaccination highlighted gaps in our country's immunisation programmes, which is something I would really like to see change in the near future.

Finally, any words of encouragement or advice for fellow researchers or doctors considering attending the MRF conference in future?

I wholeheartedly encourage fellow researchers and doctors to participate in conferences like these. The opportunities for international collaboration, knowledge acquisition, gaining a broader perspective on global health issues, and exposure to prominent figures are immense. I'm really grateful to CoMO and MRF, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and PATH who funded the bursary scheme, for this enriching experience. I will never forget this.

Thank you, Dr. Manegabe, for your time and for making the journey all the way from Bukavu to London.

About the Meningitis Research Foundation (MRF) Conference 2023 bursary scheme:

In 2023, thanks to generous funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and PATH, MRF were able to launch a bursary scheme to support attendance of delegates to the MRF conference on 7-8 November 2023 at the British Museum in London. Applications were welcomed from researchers and healthcare professionals interested in attending the conference who were a national of, and resident for at least 60% of the year in, a low-income or lower-middle-income country in accordance with the current World Bank classification. An overwhelming number of exceptional applications were received (over 90) and applications were then shortlisted by MRF’s conference steering committee. We were delighted to welcome delegates from India, Mozambique, Malawi, Vietnam, DRC, Uganda, Senegal and Nigeria as part of the scheme.

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