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Meet Larissa Otero - ITM alumna and MPH guest lecturer


Larissa Otero, a medical doctor and epidemiologist from Peru, first came into contact with ITM, she was as a junior research assistant in a multi-country project on smear negative tuberculosis, led by ITM. “This introduced me to a thriving international research environment where rigorous methodological approaches were developed by staff and collaborators with extensive field experience”, Larissa says. In 2008, she completed the Master in Public Health Disease Control Orientation at ITM.  Subsequently, while based in Lima, she began a “sandwich PhD programme” at ITM. In 2016, she obtained her PhD degree from the University of Ghent. Both her Master’s and her PhD thesis dealt with research on tuberculosis.  

While based at the Instituto de Medicina Tropical Alexander von Humboldt (IMTAvH) at the Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia (UPCH) in Lima, Peru,  she designed and conducted multiple epidemiological and operational research studies on TB, HIV/TB and MDR-TB (multidrug resistance TB) case detection  in primary care facilities as well as in hospitals in Peru. Nowadays, she conducts research in collaboration with ITM and teaches and mentors master’s and doctoral students at the School of Medicine (IMTAvH) at UPCH where she is assistant professor. She interacts closely with TB programme managers at central and peripheral level in Peru, to develop research proposals and studies, also for training purposes. With her colleagues at UPCH, she has conducted multiple operational research trainings to TB and HIV programme staff both in person and online.

When it comes to the impact of her study experience at ITM, Larissa says: “The knowledge and skills obtained during my training at ITM are useful to me on a daily basis. I have a research background and it was at ITM where I learned about programme planning, management and evaluation - from both from lectures and exercises delivered by ITM staff, and from discussions with my peers from all over the world. These experiences have been very enriching because of several reasons. Learning about the burden and distribution of tuberculosis in countries on the other side of the world is, on the one hand, familiar because many disease control strategies and challenges are the same everywhere.  On the other hand, other approaches  considering specific geographical settings can be illuminating, as they stimulate creativity, motivation and technical learning. Furthermore, this is an ideal type of training for those interested in operational and implementation research. We learn the scientific methods to conduct research, while in direct contact with users of that type of research. Therefore, the research approaches are not isolated from the real life functioning of a programme. Another advantage is that our abilities to communicate research findings improve as we learn to present to different audiences, and see presentations from colleagues with varied backgrounds.”              

Upon obtaining her PhD degree, Larissa was invited to facilitate this year’s tuberculosis module within the Master in Public Health Disease Control Orientation. She delivered a lecture on the basics of operational research and provided some examples of studies conducted in Lima. “As always, the experience of sharing knowledge at ITM has been enriching”, Larissa says. "For example, I learned that students from Asia and Africa are experiencing the same challenges on pediatric tuberculosis diagnosis and management as we are in Peru. Research is needed to determine the impact of a TB diagnosis on a child’s education. We also need tailored strategies for HIV/TB programme integration based on a clear understanding of affected populations and their access to health services.”

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