Grants further African research

Are chemicals used in growing flowers causing health problems in Naivasha, Kenya, or can illness in the community be attributed to various sources of stress? Phaedra Henley, a Western University PhD candidate, is conducting on-the-ground research to get at the root of that very question.

Henley is a recipient of the Africa Initiative’s Graduate Research Grant, which sends African and Canadian students on short-term academic placements to conduct field work. A student in Western’s Department of Pathology, and a graduate of its Master’s in Environment and Sustainability program, she is one of two students at Western who took part in the program this year.

“There is an overwhelming belief that the chemicals used in the floriculture industry are poisoning the communities surrounding Lake Naivasha,” Henley said. “It is hoped understanding the real links between exposure to pesticides and the disease burden will empower decision-makers to make changes that will benefit that population’s health, as well as reduce stress caused by fear of exposure to environmental contaminants and potential ill health effects.”

Henley’s field work included comparing cortisol levels in hair to the detailed responses in 1,000 implemented health status questionnaires and determining the body burdens of pesticides in blood and urine to establish the actual risk of chemical exposure of people living in Naivasha.

“While collecting samples, I listened to community concerns and built positive relationships, beginning a rewarding quest to answer some of the community’s issues,” she said. “Receiving the Africa Initiative Graduate Research Grant enabled me to further explore a topic I am deeply interested in and one with outcomes I know will make a positive impact in Naivasha.”

“Phaedra’s unique study is important to the lives of Kenyans, particularly among those who work in the flower industry — one of the country’s largest sectors,” said Ibi Brown, exchange program coordinator for the Africa Initiative, headquartered at The Centre for International Governance Innovation in Waterloo.

Also receiving a grant was Jenna Dixon, a PhD candidate in Western’s Department of Geography, who focuses her doctoral research on a foundation of health geography and developmental geography in order to focus on barriers to health insurance enrolment in Ghana. Specifically, this work analyzes the roles of gender and poverty in achieving access to health care. Jenna has previously studied health care organization in the Canadian context, and has spent time working in health facilities in Kenya and Uganda.

She holds a masters of arts from Western’s Department of Sociology.