Loading file cabinets onto a truck in Lobatse, Botswana wasn’t in Morgan Packers’ job description. Neither was pressing contractors to bring renovations up to code at the Nyangabgwe Hospital Clinic, but unhesitatingly, she did both.
“She’s someone you trust to do a job well and on time,” said Dr. Shahin Lockman, one of Morgan’s mentors. “She’s resourceful, adaptable, and has the ability to work with new people in a completely new environment,” said Dr. Kenneth Maswabi, a colleague in Botswana. “Doing whatever needs to get done, that’s the nature of project management,” said Morgan herself.
As a Research Coordinator for the Botswana Harvard AIDS Institute Partnership, Morgan is a key member of teams conducting research on mother-to-infant HIV transmission, infant HIV treatment, infant outcomes, and community-based HIV prevention.
Morgan began pursuing her interest in global health when she was an International Affairs major at Northeastern University. In 2011, Morgan signed up for Northeastern’s Dialogue of Civilizations program to spend the summer learning Arabic in Egypt. And then the Arab Spring happened. Because of the threat of violence in Egypt, the program was moved to Jordan and Turkey.
“People were excited—they were excited for change,” said Morgan. “Even though the Arab Spring never fully made it to Jordan, it was interesting to see the measures the government was taking to prevent the same thing happening there.” That summer changed her life. She has returned to the region several times since.
Desk to Field
After graduating from Northeastern in 2013, Morgan began working at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, first on Harvard’s Tanzania PEPFAR (President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) program, and then with the Botswana Harvard Partnership (BHP). Running clinical trials involves an enormous amount of paperwork, as well as coordination of staff, clinic space, study participants, drugs, data, and finances. Morgan works to ensure that all systems run smoothly, or some semblance thereof. “She stepped into a job that was quite challenging,” said Lockman.
“The biggest takeaway for me was that transition from communicating with my coworkers abroad while sitting behind a desk in Boston, and then taking that leap and going over to Botswana and interacting with people in person and appreciating how complicated the situation is on the ground,” said Morgan. “It takes a lot longer for things to get done than I realized from here.”
In Boston, Morgan never had to consider basic infrastructure. In Botswana, where power cuts are frequent and water is rationed, she learned not to take basic services for granted.
Take, for example, the day Morgan and her colleagues traveled to Molepolole to brief hospital leaders about the Early Infant Treatment study. The team planned to recruit many of the mothers and infants for the study at Scottish Livingstone Hospital. Before meeting with the hospital’s senior staff, the power failed. Although there was a back-up generator for patients’ life support and critical care, all other power was out. At the time, the team was about to make a PowerPoint presentation for the hospital’s superintendent and doctors. With no power for the projector, the entire group ended up watching the presentation crowded around a laptop in a small, hot office. “At the end of the day, the message that needed to get across got across,” said Morgan. Recruitment began a few weeks later.
Morgan’s Botswana experience has strengthened her desire to continue in global health. This fall, she’ll begin the Master’s program in Human Rights and Humanitarian Action at the Institut d’études politiques de Paris, or as it’s informally called, Sciences Po. She hopes to conduct research on the health and human rights of refugee populations in conflict settings. After that? Morgan wants to see what the next year teaches her, but becoming a human rights lawyer or a research scientist are both live options—some form of doing whatever needs to get done.