Volunteers needed: Collecting information on clusters of COVID-19

What settings are linked to the transmission of SARS-CoV-2?

Early on in the pandemic, a group at LSHTM realised that it would be highly important to understand where exactly transmission of SARS-CoV-2 has occurred. They did a rapid review of open access data on clusters, finding a wealth of reports with varying levels of supporting epidemiology data. Their initial findings highlighted the likely risks of indoor settings and the lack of clusters linked to schools.

They are continuing to gather this data, in collaboration with others who have cluster databases, but are struggling to get a hold on all those that are being reported. Their initial peer-supported database has had a lot of attention – providing evidence to help make decisions about what we should be doing during this pandemic.

To help with this, they’re calling on the LSHTM Alumni community to support this database gathering. They’re looking for people who can devote a few hours a week to search for clusters linked to specific settings (e.g. schools in Israel) and to extract linked data. They’d love to have people from multiple countries to help us get a handle on the local situations.

If you would like to be involved please email info@superspreadingdatabase.com cc’ing alumni@lshtm.ac.uk.

Library Inductions for new students: welcome to our Library services

Library Inductions for new students.

Welcome to all our new students! We look forward to supporting you in your studies this year.

There is a lot of information for new arrivals to take in during Welcome week. When you have time, please feel free to contact the Library (library@lshtm.ac.uk) with any questions that you have about our services – the staff here will be happy to help you with anything related to our online services and facilities, information resources and information skills training.

To help you get started, please attend our Induction session in Week 1:

Library Induction: using the Library, finding and accessing resources

Mon 28th September – Friday 2nd October 2020
12:00pm-1:00pm or 1:00pm-2:00pm

(NB – you only need to book one session – please check which time slot when booking your session.)

How to book on a session:
1. go to the Library Moodle page: tinyurl.com/ismoodle

2. Scroll down to the Information Skills Training section on the Library Moodle page and use the booking link.

3. On the day of the session, come back to the Library Moodle page above and click on the Zoom session link that you want to attend. You can join a session up to 15 minutes before the start time.

This session will give you an introduction to the Library services, help you understand your reading list, and ensure you’re ready to find and access books, journals, articles and databases at LSHTM.

It is aimed at Masters-level students, but anybody is welcome to attend. The class is delivered live using Zoom.

We look forward to seeing you online!

COVID-19 Alumni Stories: Sanjana Mohan

Sanjana Brahmawar Mohan (MSc Epidemiology, 2012) works with Basic Healthcare Services, a not-for-profit organisation which runs primary healthcare clinics (called AMRIT clinics) in remote, tribal communities in southern Rajasthan, India. Here, she describes how her work has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown.

“Tribal communities in southern Rajasthan in India have amongst the highest burden of malnutrition in the state as well as the country, and a huge burden of morbidities as well as preventable mortality. In areas where they exist, AMRIT clinics are the only facilities run by qualified health providers, with the next facility located at least 15-20 km away. When the pandemic and lockdown began, a major challenge was continuing health services, and also ensuring the safety of our health workforce of physicians, nurses and health workers. The other health facilities were shutting down the regular outdoor services and focusing on COVID-19 alone. As we were practically the only providers in the area, cutting down on their work even in the face of the pandemic was not an option.

“Faced with resource and space constraints, our response included using masks (multilayered, reusable ones), social distancing, and rigorous hand hygiene. We also shifted the consultation area into the open to further reduce transmission risk. The sense of fear everywhere also affected our nurses and health workers, who were under constant pressure from their families to return home. Speaking to them regularly, clearing their doubts as well as fears with scientific knowledge as it became known, was and still is an important part of our work. These discussions, carried out through online sessions as well as in person, have clearly boosted their confidence.

“Halting of all public transport and marked restrictions on travel made it very difficult for patients with chronic conditions, most commonly tuberculosis, diabetes and hypertension to visit the clinics. We listed out these patients and our nurses and health workers made home visits to deliver their medicines. Being close to the communities, we were also able to identify their urgent needs. Very soon after the lockdown began, there was a severe shortage of food. Our field teams identified the most vulnerable families for whom we, together with the government, mobilised food rations quickly. In the early days of the pandemic, there were also a lot of rumours circulating in the communities that created a panic like situation. We trained our health workers, who conducted telephonic counselling of community members, responded to their questions, and allayed their fears.

“Training of the physicians, nurses and health workers has always been an important part of our work. While we have not been able to conduct in-person training since the lockdown began, we have shifted to online platforms to continue the agenda. We have been using individual assessments (using apps such as google docs), and on-job mentoring and support.

“Our work also includes running daycare centres that provide nutritious food and a caring environment for young children. While these were closed from the time the lockdown began, our workers prepared hot cooked food for the children and delivered it home in small tiffins. In areas with extreme food scarcity, the food has ensured the availability of nutritious food and will likely protect these children from slipping into malnutrition.

“We have seen that following evidence-based protocols, adapting them rapidly as more knowledge becomes known, honest communication with the team, and supporting them helps in ensuring continuity of services. In times when the number of patients across many health facilities has dropped, the AMRIT clinics are seeing even more patients- nearly 25 per cent more than those seen in similar periods last year. There are now more patients of tuberculosis, severe malnutrition, women seeking contraception, and many more conditions. With the rainy season on, we are also seeing and managing more and more cases of malaria.

In the last five months, my organisation and I have been writing extensively, sharing findings from the ground with the external world, and advocating the cause for strong primary healthcare systems especially in the midst of the pandemic. Our writings include the challenge of tuberculosis and why it needs continued focus, the incidence of COVID-19 in the migrants returning from cities to rural areas, food availability in tribal areas, the situation of childhood nutrition and actions needed, and more. These have been published in well known online portals in the country. My training in epidemiology has been vital in researching and analysing issues, and in documenting these in a scientific manner.” 

If you are an alumnus and would like to share your COVID-19 story, please click here to find out more.

Information about how you can support, promote and share LSHTM’s COVID-19 Response work is available here.

Introducing LSHTM Connect

We have some exciting news, we have launched a brand new alumni portal called LSHTM Connect! This portal has replaced our previous alumni online site with updated features and better ways to connect with other alumni. It includes a new, improved alumni directory and a mobile app for easier access. You can connect with people sharing your professional or academic interests and get involved in projects.

With LSHTM Connect you can join a chapter group where you can network with alumni in your area, organise events, share jobs and share photos. LSHTM Connect allows you to interact with other alumni and staff, helping to grow your network. We will post important LSHTM information on the feed, so you are always up to date.

If you wish to do so, LSHTM Connect also allows you to interact with students meaning you can share your memories and inspire the future leaders of global health. You can volunteer to join our mentoring scheme to have the option for students to contact you with questions and find you as a mentor.

Register for LSHTM Connect via lshtmconnect.org.

Sleeping Sickness records

The LSHTM Archives hold a number of collections relating to sleeping sickness or African trypanosomiasis, which is an insect-borne parasitic infection of humans and other animals. It is caused by the species Trypanosoma brucei. Humans are infected by two types, Trypanosoma brucei gambiense (TbG) and Trypanosoma brucei rhodesiense (TbR). TbG causes over 98% of reported cases. Both are usually transmitted by the bite of an infected tsetse fly and are most common in rural areas.

The causative agent and vector were identified in 1903 by David Bruce and the subspecies of the protozoa were differentiated in 1910. Bruce had earlier shown that T. brucei was the cause of a similar disease in horses and cattle that was transmitted by the tsetse fly (Glossina morsitans).

Sir David Bruce
Sir David Bruce

Sleeping Sickness Bureau

The Sleeping Sickness Bureau was founded in June 1908 at the Royal Society, under the direction of Arthur Bagshawe. It was established as a central bureau to collate and offer information on current research and control measures in sleeping sickness. It soon became apparent that sleeping sickness was not the only disease in need of attention; in 1911 the Kala azar Bulletin was published and in 1912 the Bureau moved to the Imperial Institute and was renamed the Tropical Diseases Bureau.

From 1914 onwards the Bureau, maintaining a comprehensive international sphere of interests, emphasised a growing awareness of sanitation as a necessary factor in control of disease in tropical latitudes by publishing also a Bulletin of Hygiene.

In 1920, the Bureau moved to share the new premises of the London School of Tropical Medicine in Endsleigh Gardens and in 1925 changed its name to the Bureau of Hygiene and Tropical Diseases. It moved in 1929 to the new School building in Keppel and was housed in the London School until 1993 when it became part of Commonwealth Agricultural Bureaux International (CABI).

In the Archives, we hold two volumes of press cuttings relating to sleeping sickness between 1908 and 1912.

Carpenter Diary

The Carpenter Diary is a handwritten journal detailing the experiences of a British scientist and his wife researching sleeping sickness in Uganda in the 1920s. The diary provides a rich account of the daily lives of Geoff and Amy Carpenter as they navigated life in African environs, as well as the relative luxury of the colonial lifestyle. As well as diary entries documenting their day to day activities, there are photos, pressed flowers, press cuttings, concert programmes and their wedding invitation.

Carpenter Diary

Within the LSHTM archives we have begun to re-examine the way we work, the stories we tell and the role we can play in promoting different versions of history. We have used the Carpenter diary as an example of how we can do this, further details in this blog: Decolonising the Archive: Carpenter Diary

Map collection

The Archives hold a collection of over 450 maps; 175 relate to the study of sleeping sickness between 1901 and 1973. Most maps show the distribution of tsetse flies and palpalis in particular countries. Also includes maps showing infected areas and where flies have been collected for examination.

Sleeping Sickness map of East Africa Protectorate c.1910

Sir Ronald Ross collection

Sir Ronald Ross was the discoverer of the mosquito transmission of malaria, we hold a collection of over 20,000 of his items which relate to his work on the prevention of malaria but also consist of material on other tropical diseases including sleeping sickness. These include correspondence with other tropical medicine specialists including Sir David Bruce and Arthur Bagshawe, reports, publications and press cuttings. For those researching sleeping sickness, the Ross collection holds a wealth of material.

Letter from Sir David Bruce to Sir Ronald Ross

For further information on accessing these collections, please contact archives@lshtm.ac.uk

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COVID-19 Alumni Stories: Dr Ligia Barros

Dr Ligia Barros (Diploma in Tropical Medicine & Hygiene, 2018) works as a Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist Consultant in Mozambique. Here, she discusses how she has been responding to COVID-19 and how LSHTM training has helped during this time.

“Since COVID-19, private practice has become more difficult with all the restrictions and the fears associated with the pandemic, especially in a country where telemedicine has serious logistic difficulties. There has also been an increased concern in mental health since the significant care disruption. I’m currently involved in a project of telephonic mental health surveillance and crisis intervention.

“My week is varied, and therefore I don’t really have a typical workday. I do private practice on Monday and Wednesday mornings. It’s not a wealthy population, and stigma still plays a big role, so my workload is very diverse. People mostly search my services in a crisis and stop attending as soon as the situation is stable. Developmental disorders are the main cause of about 50% of my practice. 

“I volunteer with a school for disabled children and adolescents where I’m responsible for the strategy and coordination of the programmes and interventions – also giving clinical support one morning a week.

“Another project I’m involved with is employment for disabled individuals, where my main responsibility is to match the needs of the job with the abilities of the candidate. Sometimes I have to work on this project for several days, sometimes there is no need. 

“LSHTM’s training gave me a broader view of all the disease burden, struggles and lack of resources. Also, how the issues you have to overcome impacted the design of any project or action.”

If you are an alumnus and would like to share your COVID-19 story, please click here to find out more.

Information about how you can support, promote and share LSHTM’s COVID-19 Response work is available here.

Pressure, pandemic and people: the first year of my PhD

Els Roding, from the Netherlands, has recently completed the first year of her PhD in LSHTM’s Faculty of Public Health & Policy. In this interview, Els tells us about her research and shares advice for other students undertaking PhD study.

Hi Els, thanks for joining us. To start with, can you let us know a bit about your background and what led you to the PhD programme at LSHTM?

I first studied Cultural Anthropology and Development Studies in the Netherlands, then did a research master’s in Medical Anthropology. I just became so interested in the subject, that I wanted to explore more ways to continue – not necessarily within academia, but then an opportunity came up where I met a potential supervisor from LSHTM, Prof Simon Cohn. Simon had some really interesting ideas and asked the kinds of questions I was interested in exploring. So we designed a study and successfully applied for funding. It was a very big surprise and of course I accepted because it is great to be working on a study we have designed ourselves.

Tell us more about your research.

It’s a Medical Anthropology study and I will do qualitative research in a hospital in the UK. It’s about the NHS under pressure and all the different pressures people working in the NHS are under, and how these interact with what will be my case study – pressure ulcer prevention and management.

That sounds like a very interesting topic. What stage are you at now?

I had the upgrading process (from MPhil to PhD) a couple of months ago, which means I wrote a detailed plan for my study and presented it virtually to the assessors and colleagues. I was unfamiliar with this process but it was a good experience with feedback I can definitely work with and that helps me move forward with the project.

Congratulations on overcoming that first hurdle! So looking back over your first year, how would you describe your day-to-day routine?

Well, this changed massively during the COVID-19 pandemic, but I started the year in London and got a desk in an office at LSHTM’s Tavistock Place building, which was really nice as everyone was working on different things. I’d definitely recommend to every PhD candidate to work in an office with other PhD students if they get a chance. I treated the PhD as a 9-5 job to keep a structure to my day and prevent myself from working at all times of the day and week, and would usually be in the office working and chatting with my colleagues, getting to know the School and getting to know the literature. And then the pandemic happened! Since then I mostly have been in the Netherlands close to family, working from home which took some getting used to but I still try to treat it as a 9-5 job. It has definitely helped to keep that structure.

It has certainly been a memorable year for everyone. What’s your plan then for next year, will you still be able to go into the hospital?

Yes, that’s the idea! I’m still trying to make that happen but also making other arrangements in case that’s not possible because hospitals are a lot less accessible for people not working in them at the moment. The plan initially was to start fieldwork in September and be in the hospital for about 12 months: interviewing, observing and shadowing people. I’m trying to make that happen, but at the same time making sure that if I’m not able to enter the hospital I can be flexible with doing things remotely over calls and shifting my methods slightly. That’s not a bad thing necessarily, because if people are working that way right now then as an ethnographer that’s what you should observe. Going through that process of doing things remotely also gives you new insights in how that works and what pressures it puts on people so it will be interesting. I’ve never done research like that before so it’s definitely a learning experience!

How have you found the academic support at LSHTM?

I find my supervisors very supportive and they’re happy to meet quite regularly. I feel the faculty in general are open to doctoral candidates’ perspectives, for instance, there are meetings we can attend if we like. I have also approached several professors just to have a coffee and discuss my project because they might have a specific angle on it or suggestions for literature. They have all been willing and I have enjoyed meeting these intellects from other disciplines as well as my own.

That’s great to hear you have had so much support from willing academics. Is there any advice you would give to new PhD students at LSHTM, especially for those beginning their degree in the COVID-19 era?

Definitely talk to people. Look at the website and see who is working in your Faculty and maybe other Faculties as well, to see if they would engage with and offer different perspectives on your project. Send them an email to see if they are willing to think with you about your project, perhaps over a Zoom call or by giving literature input. It is really useful to make the most of the time you have in that Faculty.

The same counts for other PhD candidates. I’ve been enjoying my PhD for many reasons, but mainly because I have such a nice group of other PhD students around me I have gotten to know who all do completely different things from me. So learning about them, where they’re from and their ideas about things, but also becoming friends has been valuable. We are, for example, supporting each other through the upgrading we have all been going through at the same time. We’ve been staying in touch throughout the pandemic in a WhatsApp group, even though we’re all over the world right now! I would definitely recommend getting in touch with other PhD candidates who are starting around the same time, as well as others to share experiences and go through it together rather than alone.

For people who are starting now, mostly on their own but not sharing an office or meeting face-to-face at events, it’s really worth trying to connect with people over email. I think many PhD candidates who are already at LSHTM will be very happy to talk to you about their experiences over the first months of doing the PhD.

That’s very helpful advice. Is there anything you would recommend to students considering applying to study at LSHTM?

I think it’s important to find a topic that you’ll be interested in exploring for at least a couple of years, but equally important to find a supervisor who helps you foster that interest by asking inspiring questions. Finding a supervisor who you get along with and who supports you in the way you need is one of the keys to a positive PhD experience, so I would advise students to set up a meeting with their potential supervisor at least once before they take any decisions.

Do you have any plans yet beyond your PhD?

I started this PhD thinking, ‘let’s see if I want to continue an academic career or get out after that’, and I’m still exploring. I think I would still be interested to continue in academia and I’m keen to do some teaching, but I’m keeping an open mind.

And finally, how would you summarise your first year at LSHTM – what have you enjoyed the most?

I think I have mostly enjoyed all the different perspectives on anthropology and my project, and the PhD experience in terms of meeting all many people and talking with them and hearing their thoughts about life, academia, and my project. It has been really interesting!

Interested in studying with us?
Find out more about our research degrees and Doctoral College.

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Host your own virtual alumni event

Have you got a skill you’d love to share with other alumni? Do you have a topic that you want to discuss? Would you like to network with alumni? Host your own LSHTM virtual event!

We are looking for alumni to host virtual events for our LSHTM community, giving you an opportunity to network with our global alumni community. Would you like to host:

  • A discussion on a subject of interest, e.g. COVID-19, climate change, etc.
  • Share a skill you have.
  • Host a networking event for your region.
  • Or any other virtual event ideas you have!

Let us know your ideas by email alumni@lshtm.ac.uk.