Research Project Diaries: “This experience has helped me become a more well-rounded researcher”

Kevin Martin, MSc Tropical Medicine & International Health alumnus, writes about his summer research project in Zimbabwe, which focused on identifying the barriers young people in the country face in accessing sexual health care. He explains the political issues at play, the barriers to healthcare access, and his hopes for the future.

A political issue

Kevin Martin in Zimbabwe

“The new hopes of 2017, when Robert Mugabe was replaced as president of Zimbabwe, have since been dashed. Zimbabwe is a truly beautiful country that unfortunately has been passed from one autocrat to another, its suffering aptly demonstrated by the inflation, fuel shortages and 18-hour power cuts which occurred while I was there. In this context, sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are often not seen as a priority, but STIs such as chlamydia, gonorrhoea, trichomoniasis and syphilis can lead to infertility, pre-term delivery, still birth and an increased risk of transmission of HIV.

Treating the symptoms – and the cause?

STIs disproportionately affect those in low-income countries, such as Zimbabwe. In settings with limited resources, the World Health Organization recommends “syndromic management” for the management of STIs, which entails providing treatment for most infections that may be the cause of the symptoms or signs that a patient has. However, in addition to treating for infections that may not present, which contributes to antimicrobial resistance (AMR), the method also misses individuals with asymptomatic infections. As the majority of STIs are asymptomatic, this is very problematic and contributes to ongoing STI transmission. As a result, there is increasing interest in the use of diagnostic STI tests in these settings.

This experience has helped me become a more well-rounded researcher, and I feel better equipped to work in similar settings in the future.

Sunset silhouette

A young majority

Of note, young people are particularly susceptible to STIs. In Zimbabwe, youth aged between 15 and 24 comprise 18.9% of the population. Those under 15 make up a further 40.3%. Therefore, failure to appropriately address adolescent health now will lead to significant problems in the future.

I was based in Harare for six weeks, performing a sub-study within the CHIEDZA Trial. CHIEDZA is a cluster randomised trial which aims to determine the impact of an integrated community-based package of HIV services, sexual and reproductive health services and general health counselling for 16 to 24-year-olds. STI testing for chlamydia and gonorrhoea infections were offered as part of this package of services. My aim was to explore the facilitators and barriers to accepting STI testing among Zimbabwean youth. Hopefully, this information will be helpful when STI testing is implemented more widely in the future.

Health barriers

To do this, I conducted interviews and questionnaires across four different sites in Harare. I was made to feel incredibly welcome by the CHIEDZA team, all of whom were extremely committed to providing healthcare to youth. I heard from young people about the challenges they face in accessing sexual health care. This included associated stigma and costs, as well as frequent lack of knowledge about STIs, which granted me an insight into the likely future barriers to providing STI testing.

Elephant in the wild

Skills in sexual health research

I really enjoyed my time in Zimbabwe. In addition to visiting a spectacular country, it enabled me to use the skills I had developed throughout my master’s programme. I believe this experience has helped me become a more well-rounded researcher, and I feel better equipped to work in similar settings in the future.”



If you want to see some other recent examples of student summer projects, visit the website.

Interested in studying with us? Find out more about our master’s degrees.

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Research Project Diaries: “Conducting research in Uganda gave me hands-on experience and an in-depth understanding of evaluative strategies in STI global indicators”

Lauren, an MSc Control of Infectious Diseases alumna, took on a research project with LSHTM’s STIRIG (Sexually Transmitted Infections Research Interest Group) at the MRC/UVRI & LSTHM Uganda Research Unit, focusing on evaluating syphilis control and surveillance programming. Lauren took part in primary data collection, where she gained some of the key skills needed for conducting primary research: key elements of critical analysis and reasoning, quick thinking and adaptation.
Summer Studies

“My interest in STI research was cultivated prior to my joining the Master’s at LSHTM. By attending the Control of STI module and meetings of the STIRIG group, I learned of current field research opportunities at LSHTM,  and of the MRC/UVRI & LSTHM Uganda Research Unit. After the whirlwind of final exams, the rush of participating in primary data collection was the highlight that concluded my Masters’ experience and gave me the chance to apply skills developed during my module courses. My time in Uganda gave me hands-on experience in research and an in-depth understanding of surveillance research and evaluative strategies in STI global indicators.

Lauren at one of the research health facilities

After initially meeting with the research team, I settled in at the UVRI (Uganda Virus Research Unit) research centre headquarters in Entebbe where the MRC/UVRI & LSHTM Unit is located. After a few short weeks, we headed into rural areas for surveying corresponding health facilities, and I was able to contribute to the field collection activities for the remainder of my two months. Study data collection used Open Data Kit (ODK) software on tablets provided by the Open Research Kits group, and I gained valuable coding experience outside of the analysis for my final project.

STI Surveillance

Surveillance is a critical component of effective disease control programmes, and during my summer research project, I was able to participate in a study evaluating syphilis control and surveillance programming in South-Western Uganda. Undiagnosed and untreated Treponema pallidum infection (the cause of syphilis) during pregnancy can be transmitted from mother to baby, and result in fetal loss, stillbirth and other adverse pregnancy outcomes, such as organ abnormalities in the child, known as congenital syphilis. Syphilis is the second leading cause of preventable infant mortality worldwide, despite global recommendations for universal screening programs during pregnancy.

Kalanga, Lake Victoria.

Under the stewardship of the World Health Organization (WHO), effective elimination of mother to child transmission (eMTCT) of syphilis, HIV and hepatitis B programmes include achieving indicators of 95% syphilis testing at first antenatal visit and 95% of women with positive tests effectively treated with penicillin, which brings down the rate of congenital syphilis to less than 50 cases/100,000 live births. The primary aim of the research project that I joined (at the MRC/UVRI & LSHTM Uganda Research Unit) was to evaluate the effectiveness of the introduction of a novel dual HIV and syphilis point-of-care test rolled out at antenatal clinics in achieving the first two indicators of the eMTCT programme.

Using a before-and-after evaluation design, I helped collect and analyse data from antenatal clinic patient records of health facilities selected through a two-stage cluster random sampling in two districts in South Western Uganda. We compared the rates of testing, positive reactions and treatment among antenatal clinic attenders (N=2000) in the 9-months prior to (January 2018-September 2018) and 9-months after (January 2019 – present) the introduction of a dual HIV/syphilis test kit instead of separate test kits. We also tracked the possible effect of syphilis screening by looking at maternity records of the same health facilities, documenting potential syphilis-attributable birth outcomes and HIV infection rates. Finally, we collected data on the management of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), particularly from patients with genital ulcer disease seen at the clinics. This was done to make some inferences about the community burden attributable to syphilis, and the adequacy of treatment offered.

Learning the Research Ropes

Data Collectors Allan (left) and Damalie (right)

Collecting primary research data during the course may not suit all MSc students, but it constitutes an invaluable experience for those contemplating starting a research career overseas. As a fledgeling researcher, I experienced personal nadir points – for example, when data collection wasn’t going to schedule, and the visible health inequity that I witnessed daily. I developed an inquisitive approach in Uganda, and the project taught me key elements of critical analysis and independent reasoning, as well as quick thinking and adaptation – all very useful to help develop or adapt a research protocol to answer unexplored questions in the field. It also allowed me the opportunity to participate in a cohesive research group at the MRC/UVRI & LSHTM Uganda unit, which will help me in the future.

Highlights of my summer project included exploring Uganda on my free weekends, and getting to know the people of Uganda – I developed lasting friendships with researchers and health facility workers.”

If you want to see some other recent examples of student summer projects, visit the website.

Interested in studying with us? Find out more about our master’s degrees.

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9 January – 15 January 2020

Heather Wardle appears on Football Focus (from 02:50) to discuss the negative impacts of gambling for football fans. Heather said: “Football clubs need to think about the impact of their actions because they are promoting a product that has a risk of harm. Gambling is not a risk-free commodity.”

Nason Maani and Mark Petticrew write in The Irish Times about improving alcohol health information. Nason and Mark said: “The peer-reviewed research we and others have performed has shown repeatedly that alcohol-industry-funded charities mislead the public on the links between alcohol and cancer.”

Jimmy Whitworth is quoted in The Telegraph (£) about a ‘mystery’ respiratory virus that has been detected in Thailand, the first known case outside of China. Jimmy said: “It doesn’t seem to be a virus that’s rapidly and easily transmitted in the human population, though this does raise the stakes slightly.”

David Heymann speaks to The Telegraph (£) about the importance of sharing information, following confirmation of the novel coronavirus in Thailand. David said: “It’s very important that the sequence is shared not only for confirming cases but also for developing diagnostic tests.”

Martin McKee provides expert comment for Reuters’ story on a new study that suggests a link between minimum wage increases and lower suicide rates. Martin said: “This study, taken with the other evidence, provides a strong argument for legislation to protect workers who are too easily exploited by unscrupulous employers.”

Heidi Larson’s vaccine-hesitancy research features in a Nature ‘Global problems need social science’ article. 

Research by LSHTM that looked at the variations in length of stay between countries after childbirth features in The Telegraph (£).

Research by LSHTM that is looking into brain function in football features in the Daily Mail.

On social media:

This week’s social media highlight comes from Twitter, where we announced the launch of our brand new short course, Health Policy and Systems:

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Tracey Cassidy: Founder of Junior Einsteins

Tracey Cassidy (MSc Medical Microbiology, 2003) has been invited to speak at the United Nations (UN) celebrating International Women and Girls in Science Day. She is the Founder and CEO of Junior Einsteins Science Club Ltd, which gets young children excited about science. We asked her about her time at LSHTM and achievements since leaving…

Why did you decide to study at LSHTM?

I completed my MA in Natural Science at Trinity College Dublin and wanted to direct my career towards the medical sciences. I then went on to study at Warwick Medical School, starting the four-year fast track in Medicine. However, due to difficult life circumstances I did not complete the four years. The MSc in Medical Microbiology at LSHTM was therefore a perfect way to advance my medical knowledge. The knowledge and expertise I received is so valuable to me now, when bringing hands-on STEM to primary school children through my company, Junior Einsteins Science Club ® Ltd. I made firm friendships with fellow students from across the globe; we still try to meet when we can. Some of my colleagues have even found franchisees for Junior Einsteins Science Club ®, helping me to reach as many children as possible!

What have you achieved since leaving LSHTM?

I am a single mum of three young children and my passion is to reach as many children worldwide as possible with our STEM educational services through finding hard-working, enthusiastic franchisees. I believe that you don’t have to be the smartest kid in school to do science. I started by doing experiments and got people on board to bring science to life at after-school parties, birthday parties, science camps, school science shows & workshops. It’s a wonderful thing when you love what you do, and I married science with children. Junior Einsteins encourages children to get into STEM subjects through hands-on interactive experiments and amazing science events. It is about teaching children how to make mistakes, how to cope in an ever-changing world and how to think, not what to think.

A typical class will start with lessons in slime – what kid doesn’t love slime? But really, what I am teaching them is long-chain polymerisation. They then learn that this goes into how soldiers protect themselves on battlefields, through the material that goes into armour. Slime, giant smoke cannons, Van de Graaf generators and the famous elephant toothpaste experiment – it is all about fostering a love of science and a love of learning. There’s nothing greater than seeing a kid walking tall and saying, ‘I’m a Junior Einstein’.

Junior Einsteins Science Club has collaborated with part of the United Nations RAISIT (The Royal Academy of Science International Trust). We will be featured on the UN website and also create many online live workshops, as well as webinars to reach as many children as possible globally, especially those who do not have access to quality STEM education. The most exciting achievement to date is that I have been personally invited to speak by Executive Director HRH Dr Princess Nisreen El-Hashemite at the International Women and Girls in Science Day at the United Nations in New York City on February 11th 2020.

We were the winners of the International VOOM 2018 Richard Branson Virgin Media Business Award. Richard Branson said that Junior Einsteins was ‘brilliant’ and ‘I want my grandchildren doing this!’. The company has won ‘Best Emerging Franchise’ and was nominated for ‘Children’s Franchise of the Year’ at the Franchise Awards Ireland 2019. We are also proud to be awarded Business All Stars Ireland 2019which is the national body responsible for accrediting best-in-class Irish businesses, convening the All-Ireland Business Summit and Awards.

I also do quite a bit of science communication and keynote speeches at universities, technical institutions, schools, events and business organisations, when time allows. I am proud to have been shortlisted for the IMAGE Businesswoman of the Year and Entrepreneur of the Year 2016 & 2019.

What advice do you have for current students?

Enjoy your days at LSHTM. The people you meet and the knowledge you gain will stand you in good stead in your career and in life. The hard work will be worth it and the skills you gain will improve life for people you meet and work with.


Junior Ensteins –

David Adams: Infectious Diseases Alumnus

David Adams studied MSc Infectious Diseases by distance learning in 2009 and now he has the position of Instructor in Social and Natural Sciences at Point University in Savannah. He is an active member of the alumni community and has recently released a textbook on the fundamentals of infectious diseases from a public health perspective. Here he describes his experiences as a distance learning student and his reasons behind writing the book.

Describe your time at LSHTM

One of my colleagues, an Australian, was the one who recommended the LSHTM. He said to me, “Adams, the LSHTM is looking for people like you with backgrounds in public health, epidemiology, medical sociology, and history of medicine. You should apply.” I must have given him a puzzled look because he—I should add that he was my boss—said he would repeat himself. “Adams, you’re not hearing me. You should apply.” I quickly realised that I really should apply—and I did.

I enjoyed being a distance learning student. I tend to be very task-oriented and self-motivated, so working through the courses was easy for me. With that said, I was a product of an American-style educational system. Although I had done some post-graduate work at McGill University in Canada, acclimatising myself to the British system (more formal in comparison with the American – and even Canadian – ones) took some time. The infectious diseases courses were wonderfully arranged; their curricula were clearly written.

My most memorable story occurred during my first year of studies. When I arrived at my first alumni reception, I was introduced to Sir Andrew Haines (at that time, Director of LSHTM). Well, I had never met someone with a title. I said, “Sir Andrew, it is an honour to meet you.” He shook my hand, grinned, and said, “You can call me Andy.” I paused – trying not to look to much like a bumpkin – and said, “Well, Andy. Please call me Dave.” We talked for a few minutes, sipped our drinks, and went about the rest of the evening. When I returned to my hotel room, I penned a “thank you” note to Sir Andrew for his hospitality at the reception. I thought that would be the end of it. Not so! Several weeks later, I received a letter in the mail from Sir Andrew. He had invited me to be on some sort of “student representative” on a committee named American Friends of the LSHTM. I accepted and served for several years. I was deeply honoured!

LSHTM allowed me to integrate my interests in history and sociology of medicine, epidemiology, and infectious diseases. I am now as active as possible in the Atlanta, Georgia LSHTM Alumni Chapter. I have also attended several receptions at the British Consul’s residence in Atlanta; these events are usually well attended by local alumni.

Where has your career taken you since leaving LSHTM?

Shortly after I graduated from LSHTM, a major publisher contacted me to ask if I had ever thought about doing an infectious disease textbook. Frankly, I had never really thought about. I’m glad that person called! I had already published two monographs, one on penicillin rationing on the American home front during WWII (“The Greatest Good to the Greatest Number”: Penicillin Rationing on the American Home Front, 1940-1945) and one on the American Board of Family Practice (American Board of Family Practice: A History) but never a textbook. I will say it has been an interesting experience.

My textbook is on the fundamentals of infectious diseases from a public health perspective. The text is by no means comprehensive. Nonetheless, it highlights the field of infectious diseases from an interdisciplinary perspective that incorporates the key areas of public health, e.g., epidemiology, the socio-historical contexts of infectious diseases, and global health perspectives.

I’ve had a wonderful career teaching undergraduates, post-graduates, and medical students. I am most proud, however, of my studies at LSHTM. I am unsure at this point what I hope to achieve in the future. I would like to write more on the socio-historical contexts of infectious diseases.

My advice to current students would be to take full advantage of the wonderful opportunities afforded by studying at LSHTM.

Oh, What Do You Do To Me? the City says to Tinder

Happy new year! We are welcoming back our readers with this new blogpost by DEPTH researcher Sam Miles, who was recently invited to be interviewed about sex, technology and cities for the Urban Political podcast. Read on to find out how it came about… 

Sam: As well as working with my DEPTH colleagues here at LSHTM on sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) for marginalised populations, and on the voices and experiences of young people with sickle cell, I have for a while now researched the relationship between sex and sexualities, digital technologies, and space. It’s work that I started for my PhD in 2013 and every year the themes it throws up feel even more relevant – how people find social or sexual relationships, how personal safety operates online and offline, what community means for LGBT+ people, and how we integrate (or don’t integrate) technologies into our daily lives.

I was recently invited by The {Urban Political} podcast to give an interview on dating apps and urban geographies. The {Urban Political} produces podcasts on ‘contemporary urban issues with activists, scholars and policy-makers’ that aim to advance our understanding of urban environments and how we might make them more democratic. They wanted to discuss my research on the relations between online dating apps and the production of urban space, especially with regards to sex and sexualities. I said yes because I was so intrigued by the questions presenter Dr Markus Kip posed:

Do apps like Grindr and Tinder make the city a more loving place? Do they make dating more safe for women or trans people? And do they cohere greater acceptance of queer cultures, or the opposite?

These are important questions. When put to you by someone not in your head, as it were, they have the helpful effect of sharpening focus on what is really at stake when it comes to the reality (and future) of digital technology and the welfare of sexual minorities.

People’s lived experiences are important. Thinking about the consequences of changing physical environments through the use of dating and hook-up apps beyond simplistic readings of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ offers us a real opportunity to think critically about what these platforms mean not just for individual users, but more widely for society, community and geopolitics.

urban politicalThat’s not all: in the podcast we also discuss what app companies do with the data that users provide (whether willingly or unknowingly), and what ethical boundaries are being tested in this kind of data sharing – as well as the ethics of app use itself. I’ve argued before that locative media technologies have grown at such a rapid pace that mutually-agreed social codes for use are yet to catch up with the development of these sophisticated platforms, which can lead to clashing expectations between users. I believe these (perfectly valid) tensions will be replicated and amplified across a wide range of social networks and ‘smart’ technologies in the near future as digital technologies become progressively more integrated into our daily lives.

As for the question ‘what needs to happen at an individual, collective or technological level to make online dating more useful or pleasant?’, there are any number of answers, and for me none of them are definitive. It’s become clear over recent years that dating apps are not an alternative utopian world, free from the ugliness of ‘real’ life – numerous reports of racism (special mention for #KindrGrindr), femmephobia and fat-shaming on just Grindr alone exemplify exactly that. But maybe there is space for a future of sociality, solidarity and support for sexual minorities who network online. We already see these kinds of networks in action in queer organising, online communities, and support groups at various scales and in various guises. There is no reason why dating and hook-up apps cannot similarly be collectively co-opted to embrace more ‘promiscuous’ socialisation to combat loneliness, more political solidarity with a range of queer identities and livelihoods, and more support for sexual rights agendas, whether they be PrEP provision or sexual & reproductive health rights. We can make it a 2020 resolution, can’t we?

You can listen to the podcast here, and check out other Urban Political podcasts here. There’s plenty to choose from, from the Hong Kong protests to heritage vs. gentrification.

This article was adapted from Sam’s blog post on Sexuality & the city.

19 December 2019 – 8 January 2020

Anne Mills highlights the progress made in the fight against Ebola in The Guardian‘s ‘science stories that made 2019’. Anne said: “We can now treat those infected as well as prevent spread of the disease as a result of large and innovate collaborations that demonstrate how to help develop new and effective technologies, now and in the future… however, we must continue to strive to address the fundamental causes of ill health.”

In The Daily Telegraph (£) Pauline Scheelbeeck discusses her new paper examining how climate change will affect the world’s fruit, seed and nut production. Pauline said: “We’re starting to recognise that the fruit and vegetable supply might not be as resilient as we thought…we will have to rethink how we can have a sustainable and resilient food system.”

Roz Eggo appears on the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures (Episode 1 from 22:06) with Dr Hannah Fry to explain the mathematics of disease transmission.

Roz also provides expert comment to New Scientist about a viral pneumonia emerging in China. Ros said:“It’s hard to know how severe a disease is, especially a new infection, because you only see the cases that are severe enough to be detected.”

Jimmy Whitworth is quoted in The Telegraph (£) about an ‘unexplained’ disease outbreak in China. Jimmy said: “At the moment this outbreak appears to be under control, but until the cause has been identified, we must remain on high alert.”

Rachel Lowe talks to the New York Times and The Independent about the dengue outbreak in Honduras. Rachel said: “In general, climate change is one of the multitude of factors affecting dengue.”

Martin McKee is quoted by the Financial Times about the safety of e-cigarettes. Martin said: “There is not enough evidence that e-cigarettes are beneficial as a tool for quitting. The flavourings may have been tested for safety as food additives but that tells us nothing about when they are combined with the chemicals that make up the vaping liquid.”

A Lancet study co-authored by LSHTM on how Brexit will affect health services in the UK has been featured as one of the most discussed and shared research in the ‘2019 Altmetric Top 100’.

Punam Mangtani provides expert comment for the New Scientist’s story on a new study that found delivering the BCG vaccine via veins could increase protection against tuberculosis. Punam said: “The work is a very interesting proof of principle and could mark a step change in research.”

The National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyle (Natsal) was featured in BBC News Africa. The survey which is co-led by LSHTM, is one of the largest studies of sexual behaviour and lifestyles in the world.

Daniel Bausch, Director of the UK Public Health Rapid Support Team (a partnership between LSHTM and PHE), speaks to NPR about why the 2014 West Africa Ebola outbreak sped up vaccine trials. Daniel said: “We had accepted that clinical trails for drugs and vaccines were 10-year efforts, but with the West Africa outbreak, we found a new speed for clinical trials.”

Healio cover Jason Ong’s research suggesting PrEP programs could be an ideal place to test for, prevent and treat STIs as well as HIV. Jason said: “PrEP programs can be a gateway to offer comprehensive sexual health care which should not only diagnose and treat STIs, but also offer vaccination, mental health support, substance use support and reproductive health services.”

Arminder Deol talks to Vetinary Practice about initiatives to control and eliminate parasitic diseases. Arminder said: “The results of our paper will enable us to improve our approach to achieving the global control and elimination targets for schistosomiasis.”

Sally Bloomfield is quoted in Yahoo! News about how to avoid getting ill on a plane. Sally said: “It takes time for the cold virus to burrow to the tissues of your nose… if you catch it in the early stages, you can prevent a cold.”

On social media:

This week’s social media highlight comes from Twitter, where we unveiled the newly added names of Marie Sklodowska-Curie, Florence Nightingale and Alice Ball to our previously all-male frieze:

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13-18 December 2019

Heidi Larson speaks to BBC Radio 4 (from 03:40) about the spread of vaccine misinformation online. Heidi said: “The Wakefield paper was published in 1998 – people forget that was the same year Google opened their doors, and that was followed by Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. If that paper had come out 10 years before, I think we’d be in a very different place.”

Val Curtis discusses the importance of increasing access to safe hygiene facilities to combat disease on BBC World Service. Val said: “There’s still a huge job in global hygiene be done and huge rates of disease that can be prevented. Half the world still doesn’t have decent water sanitation.”

Rebecca Glover comments on the world’s first subscription-style payment model to incentivise pharmaceutical companies to develop new drugs for resistance infections in Raconteur. Rebecca said: “Companies could hold back incentives in the future in the hope that perceived value will increase as antimicrobial resistance rates get worse.”

Stephen Evans speaks to Newsweek about how research linking oral contraception to brain structure change in women should be treated with caution. Stephen said: “Oral contraceptives are among the most carefully studied medicines and their adverse and beneficial effects are very well known. While investigation of effects seen on MRI may be worth pursuing, this study should not be used to change any woman’s oral contraceptive use or planned use.”

Andy Haines talks to The BMJ about the important role health professionals play in advocating for stronger climate action. Andy said: “Each person has to act on their conscience.”

Research by LSHTM and The Health Foundation on the state of quality improvement in general practice in the UK was featured by Pulse. The report said: ‘The lack of protected time to plan and design improvement emerged as a major challenge for almost 80% of GPs.’

Marko Kerac talks to Devex about how to achieve scalability and sustainability in research. Marko said: “If a project is to be scaled, it has to be jointly owned, rather than being a product of one organization and set of investigators. It has to have a much larger ownership. By being open and having that sense of shared output with the larger group, you can maximize success.”

On social media:

This week’s social media highlight comes from Twitter, where we marked International Migrants Day by debunking common negative stereotypes that exist around migration and health:

December 18, 2019

Alumni Innovators: Sean Leung

Sean Leung is Senior Charities Manager at The Hong Kong Jockey Club Charities Trust. He studied for an MSc Public Health at LSHTM. In the latest of our posts celebrating 120 years of health innovation at LSHTM, Sean (pictured above right, taking part in the Hong Kong Streetathon organised by the Run Our City social enterprise) told us about his time at the School and what innovation means to him.

Why did you decide to study at LSHTM?

After working in the philanthropy and public sectors for years, it was about time to get refreshed and to acquire the latest knowledge in policy formulation on public health fronts.  LSHTM offers, without doubt, one of the best programmes in public health supported by its global network of research centres and alumni.  I was also attracted by the interesting ties between Hong Kong and LSHTM, which could be traced back to the establishment by Sir Patrick Manson of Hong Kong’s first medical school in 1887, before he went back to London to start LSHTM in 1899 (‘History and Health’ is obviously my favourite course).  More importantly, LSHTM is among the few which offer distance learning courses, suiting my work schedule the best.

How has your degree at LSHTM complemented your career?

The MSc Public Health provided me with the depth of knowledge to understand the latest trends and threats in public health, as well as a breadth of different perspectives to see problems with fresh eyes.  For instance, when conceptualising a new public health initiative at work, the latest findings in social determinants of health have surely enriched various project components and broadened my horizons in terms of incorporated non-health services.  This would not be possible without the solid academic foundation that the degree at LSHTM gave me.

Apart from the academic element, LSHTM’s international network of staff and alumni has helped the career advancement of world-leading experts and professionals. An LSHTM degree carries much more weight than one would imagine.

What does innovation mean to you?

When nuclear technologies were used for making ammunitions and diagnosis; malaria eradication for winning hearts and minds and disease control; (re)-discovery of artemisinin for demonstrating political prowess and treating malaria, there is always a fine line between devils and angels behind the driving force of innovation.

The century-old ethic of beneficence and non-maleficence  should always be close to our hearts when we innovate.  And they matter even more in public health as our innovation (either technologically or in systemic changes) will have more long-lasting and community-wide impacts and consequences.

How can innovation solve challenges in global health?

Innovation is more than just technological advancements. Breaking silos and facilitating collaborations across disciplines and professionals is vital in the face of the growing need to address social determinants of health in this globalised world village.  Healthcare alone is insufficient to address the increasingly complex problems of global health; innovative cross-sectoral partnership and collaboration could be a new way out.

How do you use innovation in your work?

Healthcare workers have been encouraging patients to do more exercises for decades; and sports scientists are busy designing disease-specific exercise programmes; and recent developments in wearable technologies enable real-time feedback of physical activities.  These fields of disciplines have been growing within their own worlds to tackle the burdening tolls of physical inactivity; but they do not cross.

The Hong Kong Jockey Club Charities Trust supports the Chinese University of Hong Kong to roll out the ‘Exercise is Medicine’ project which aims to address the rising burden of chronic conditions and physical inactivity.  With the ‘exercise prescription’ from healthcare professionals, supervision by physical fitness trainers and real-time activity recording, the project aims to assist patients with chronic diseases in forming a habit of exercising.  Although the wearable technologies are not cutting-edge and exercise programmes are readily available, the innovation comes from the partnership of these disciplines to tackle one of the great non-communicable diseases, physical inactivity.

What advice do you have for current students?

LSHTM offers an array of courses, many of which are world-leading, and it is possible to select those outside your registered programme.  “Stay foolish. Stay hungry”: do not think too much about grades and time, enjoy what you like and want!

Jose Luis Garcia: Volunteering in Tchad

Jose Luis Garcia studied the Professional Diploma of Tropical Nursing (PDTN), graduating in 2018. After his time at LSHTM he embarked on a volunteering experience in Tchad (Republic of Chad) for the Iluminafrica Foundation. In this post he explains his life-changing experience and tells us about his time at LSHTM.

Why did you decide to study at LSHTM and how has this complemented your career?

My great interest in the protection of human rights was one of the main reasons why I decided to study nursing. It was in Watford, whilst I was working in the A&E Department, where I discovered the Diploma at LSHTM. I was interested in applying for the PDTN at one of the worldwide leading postgraduate Universities in public, international health and tropical medicine to contribute to its mission of improvement of health in the world. All this was in perfect harmony with my purpose of developing professionally in international cooperation as a nurse. I would like to deeply thank everyone who made my admission possible, a dream made true, and this wonderful course. To all thank you, thank you, thank you.

The incredible opportunity to study at LSHTM complemented my career in so many ways, providing me theoretical and practical knowledge with two hours of practice per week in the laboratory, in: public health, primary and community care, emergency and disaster care, medical anthropology, sanitation infrastructure technologies, mental health, obstetrics and gynaecology, nutrition, immunology, parasitology, conflicts and health blood group determination, blood cross-tests, haemoglobin estimation, non-communicable diseases along with a wide coverage of tropical diseases. As well as learn to diagnose Malaria, Leishmaniosis, Philariasis and other parasitic diseases. The course also helped me to perform an effective literature search and find items in databases, as we had to submit an essay based on previous research.”

Describe your volunteering experience.

“The week before leaving Madrid I read a phrase by Pablo Coelho that I think is necessary to introduce an experience like this: ‘There is a language in the world that everyone understands: it is the language of enthusiasm, of things done with LOVE and with will, in search of what is desired or believed. When you feel full and complete of love, about anything that makes you connect more with that and expand in your life.’

In April 2019 I found the Iluminafrica Foundation, whilst looking for a volunteer position as a nurse. Since childhood I have always had in mind that the sun does not shine the same for all. My experience at the hospital of Saint Joseph de Bebedjia, Tchad from July to October, 2019 shows this. In general, living and sanitation conditions are far from the minimum that has been established by the international organisations and the sustainable development goals set for 2030 by the United Nations Organisation (UN). It is a very big cultural shock and these conditions made me feel helpless, angry and sad, but never made me forget the reason for my volunteering. I have witnessed cases of patients with incurable terminal diseases without adequate means, orphaned new-born babies of a mother who died from perinatal haemorrhage at home, 125 paediatric patients in a 40-bed service, intractable hypoxemias when there is no O2 or electricity to correct it, deaths without justifiable cause as there are no adequate means of diagnosis, death of children with diseases: Malaria, Tuberculosis, HIV, Hepatitis …etc.

On a professional level, one of my actions has been to observe the deficiencies of all kinds that the hospital suffers at a technical level and training of professionals and from day one: search, study, and print solutions in French and with a close relationship with the Technical and Administrative Directorate of the hospital and via WhatsApp with Enganchados and Iluminafrica. The clinical improvement efforts have been heard but are still to be implemented in the different services. I can refer to a great success what has been achieved through this communication, the logistic support provided in both the optics and the hospital who have expressed the importance of improving its quality of care. I think it is a common vision of the volunteers who have gone through Bebedjia. This experience has meant an impressive two-way cultural exchange of learning.

I would really recommend for current students to volunteer in a low-resource setting. I think that this was the most rewarding experience of my life. A passion and a perspective of improving equality in terms of health and sustainable development worldwide have definitely been forged, being aware of the challenges and difficulties that I would face in the tropics and in developing countries. It has given me an overview of reality in a country with very limited human and economic resources and enriched to truly human level. Thanks Tchad for opening your doors, giving smiles and letting me understand you a little more since without your help it would have been even more unbeatable.”