Case study

Kebede DeribePostdoctoral Research Fellow, Wellcome Trust Brighton and Sussex Centre for Global Health ResearchIntermediate Fellowships in Public Health and Tropical Medicine

Getting Wellcome Trust funding

What attracted you to Wellcome and to this scheme?

My first application to Wellcome was for the Training Fellowship in Public Health and Tropical Medicine (PH&TM) Scheme. Through that grant I completed my PhD, designed and implemented a research project and published papers. 

During my PhD I established international collaborations to advance the work I’m doing, so the Intermediate Fellowship in PH&TM was the next level of grant which I could apply for. I’ve expanded the scope and depth of my research from national to global, so currently I’m working on the global mapping of podoconiosis.  

What aspects of the Intermediate Fellowship in Public Health and Tropical Medicine funding are most useful to you?

The duration, scale and flexibility, and personal development aspects of the fellowship are important. I always wanted to have a research-focused career, and Wellcome is one of the funding organisations that have consistently invested in tropical medicine research and researchers within the global health space. 

The five-year duration is very good and it gives me sufficient time to implement my research project, as well as developing myself as an independent researcher.

What do you think about Wellcome’s application process?

The application process is transparent, and the guidance from Wellcome’s website and staff is very clear. The phase approach of the application from pre-proposal to main proposal and interviews is important. It’s almost a one-year process and that is really important so researchers can think about their application thoroughly and develop their research proposal.     

How challenging have you found it to secure funding?

I’ve been fortunate in that my grant applications to Wellcome were successful. But I have also had rejections in the past, including from Wellcome. You have to learn from those and capitalise on your successes. Preparation and planning are important in the highly competitive environments of scientific research. 

What advice would you give to other applicants?

Through different applications I have learnt that the focus of many funding organisations is: candidates, science and research environments. 

So you have to work hard to prepare yourself, and also give yourself enough time to develop your research proposal. Consulting with colleagues and previous grantholders is important, and so is getting feedback from experts in your field of interest and individuals out of your comfort zone. Making sure you have the right research environment to achieve your broader research goals is also critical in getting grants.

Career path

Career summary

  • 2016-present Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Wellcome Trust Brighton and Sussex Centre for Global Health Research 
  • 2016-present Wellcome Trust Intermediate Fellowship in Public Health and Tropical Medicine
  • 2016 Emerging Leaders Award, The Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene
  • 2013-2016 PhD in Epidemiology, Brighton and Sussex Medical School
  • 2014-present Honorary Assistant Professor, Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia 
  • 2013-2016 Wellcome Trust Training Fellowship in Public Health and Tropical Medicine 
  • 2011 Young Public Health Researcher Award, Ethiopian Public Health Association 
  • 2008-2012 Program officer to program director in various organisations in Ethiopia and Sudan 
  • 2005-2007 Master's of Public Health, Jimma University, Ethiopia  
  • 2004-2005 Program Officer, Menschen für Menschen Foundation, Ethiopia
  • 2003-2004 Health Officer, Ministry of Health, Ethiopia 
  • 1998-2002 BSc in Public Health, Haramaya University, Ethiopia  

What have been the defining moments of your career so far?

My first defining moment was when I did my research in 2004 on HIV. There was no research grant, so I mobilised my colleagues to contribute money – the research was done with personal contributions. It was really interesting and I found my passion for research. 

The second defining moment was when I was working in a health facility in Ethiopia and a patient with lower leg swelling came to my clinic. That’s when I found out about podoconiosis, which I had never heard of before. I started learning and researching about the disease and became interested in working on podoconiosis from then on.  

Another defining moment was my first Wellcome grant. I was eager to do my PhD, but doing a PhD is not simple. Securing funding was really important, because most of my work experience was related to health in emergencies and health development, and I wasn’t so actively involved in research. The Wellcome grant really shaped my career path.

Research and public engagement

What’s the key question you're addressing?

I currently work on podoconiosis. It is a disfiguring swelling of the leg that puts social and economic burdens on affected individuals. It can reduce productivity and significantly compromise the economic development in endemic communities. The global distribution, burden and list of endemic countries are unknown. 

The key questions I want to respond are: first, what is the global distribution of podoconiosis? Second, what is the global burden attributed to podoconiosis in disability-adjusted-life-years? Third, how much will it cost globally to control and eliminate podoconiosis? 

I intend to map the disease distribution at a global scale, estimate the number of people affected, the working years lost to podoconiosis and the economic cost of the disease. This research will generate information essential to the planning, control and elimination of podoconiosis in countries where the disease is common. 

How are you going about answering these questions?    

First, we have conducted nationwide mapping of podoconiosis in Ethiopia and Cameroon. We’re preparing to conduct surveys in Rwanda and other countries, which will contribute to the development of the Global Atlas of Podoconiosis. Currently, I’m developing risk maps to identify the list of at-risk countries and then define the distribution of podoconiosis globally. 

And finally, we’re collecting data from ongoing projects on the costs of interventions of podoconiosis. Based on these findings, we will estimate the financial resource and societal opportunity-cost associated with scaling up prevention, morbidity management, implementing mapping surveys and response in endemic countries.

What public engagement or outreach work do you do?

Most public engagement work in Ethiopia was educating the public and patients about podoconiosis prevention and treatment. I’m currently planning to work with Wellcome support to engage school children as change agents for the prevention of podoconiosis through, for example, encouraging consistent footwear use. 

I’m intending to apply for a public engagement grant which will enhance this activity. 

References

  1. Deribe K et al. Mapping and modelling the geographical distribution and environmental limits of podoconiosis in Ethiopia. PLoS Negl Trop Dis 2015; 9(7):e0003946.
  2. Deribe K et al. Epidemiology and individual, household and geographical risk factors of podoconiosis in Ethiopia: results from the first nationwide mapping. Am J Trop Med Hyg. 2015; 92(1):148–58.
  3. Deribe K et al. The global atlas of podoconiosis. LancetGH. 2017; 5(5):e477-e9.
  4. Deribe K et al. Estimating the number of cases of podoconiosis in Ethiopia using geostatistical methods [version 1; referees: 1 approved, 1 approved with reservations]. Wellcome Open Research 2017; 2(78).
  5. Deribe K et al. Integrated morbidity management for lymphatic filariasis and podoconiosis, Ethiopia. Bull World Health Organ. 2017 Sep 1;95(9):652-656. doi: 10.2471/BLT.16.189399. Epub 2017 Jun 26.
  6. Deribe K et al. Podoconiosis in Ethiopia: From neglect to priority public health problem. Ethiop Med J. 2017;55(Suppl 1):65-74.

More information

Find out more about Kebede's work on the Brighton and Sussex Medical School and the University of Sussex websites, or follow him on Twitter

People we've funded