Eh!woza, a non-profit social impact organization founded at the Institute of Infectious Diseases and Molecular Medicine (IDM) at the University of Cape Town (UCT), ran a competition to recognize the work of BSc Medical Honors students as part of a public engagement to present (PE) module in BSc Medical Honors Techniques course. The Wellcome Center for Infectious Diseases Research in Africa (CIDRI-Africa), also based at the IDM, and the BSc Medical Honors Convenors of the Faculty of Health Sciences supported and sponsored the initiative.
Through the course set up in 2018, students were encouraged to develop a proposal for PE projects. In 2021, an assignment was piloted that required learners to create content for social media – focused on providing accurate COVID-19 information. Because of its success, a competitive component was added to the projects groups submitted this year.
dr Anastasia Koch, co-director of Eh!woza, explained the development of the course: “Cheleka Mpande [PE researcher at Eh!woza and Immunology graduate at the South African Tuberculosis Vaccine Initiative (SATVI), hosted at the IDM]Ed Young [a conceptual/visual artist and the co-director of Eh!woza] and I teach a Public Engagement module as part of the BSc Medical Honors Technique course. We ask the students to design a PE project that they can present as part of their assignments. I have always been impressed by the thought that goes into their work and the quality of their ideas.”
dr Mpande added: “We wanted students to develop a product that would be used beyond the classroom. For this iteration of the course, we asked them to develop TB-focused social media PE content that can be used to reinforce World TB Day. As a bonus, we have made this a competitive-like task where the three groups with the best PE projects not only have their content featured on the faculty’s social media and affiliated institutions’ social media channels, but also receive prizes.”
Education around public engagement
There is increasing recognition of the importance of biomedical professional education in familiarizing non-scientists with the research being conducted and helping instill confidence in biomedical science.
dr Koch said: “The idea of the course is to encourage young researchers to get a sense of the value and some of the ideas underpinning PE and ethical issues that they consider at the very early stages of their biomedical research careers should.”
“Science communication and public engagement are important pillars of the biomedical science process.”
She explained that it is hoped that as students progress, they will see sport as a core tenet of their research programs. And over time, this could ultimately change the culture around PE in general.
“As young researchers are trained, we feel it is important to emphasize that science communication and public engagement are important pillars of the biomedical scientific process to achieve the true impact of new health interventions… career paths they seek to participate in some form of public activity that points to it.” aims to instill confidence in biomedical science,” said Dr. Mpande.
The competition mechanics
Students were encouraged to self-organize into teams representing more than three BSc Medical Honors specializations to give them the opportunity to work in diverse groups and learn from each other. Seven project submissions were received.
Feedback on the projects was provided by a mixed jury of nine judges. To avoid bias, all group assignments were assigned by Dr. Mpande and Mitchell Gilbert Messina, Eh!woza resident visual artist, reviewed while the remaining panelists each reviewed up to three tasks.
Other panelists included an IDM member and Head of the Mucosal Immunology Laboratory, Associate Professor Jo-Ann Passmore; IDM Member and CIDRI Africa Director Robert J. Wilkinson; CIDRI-Africa PE Manager, Brandon Ferlito; the head of the Ndlovu research group at the faculty, Dr. Hlumani Ndlovu; Postdoc at the International Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology Dr. Lorna Gcanga; PhD Student at SATVI, Carly Young; and part-time administrative assistant at Eh!woza, Zondikazi Mjonteni.
“We deliberately selected a diverse panel of judges, including senior and junior biomedical researchers, as well as non-academics who participate in some form of public engagement or science communication activities,” said Dr. Mpande.
Winner of the Faculty of Health Sciences BSc Medical Honors PE Competition 2022
1St 1st place: Jessica More and Sanelisiwe Fourteen
This project was developed entirely as an audiovisual tool and aimed to educate people about it; TB infection, transmission, symptoms, treatment and drug-resistant TB, aiming to achieve a TB-free generation by focusing on TB investments.
“Even in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, due to the high number of TB deaths worldwide and because TB is endemic in South Africa and other parts of the world, it is still an important infectious disease to fight,” Sanelisiwe Fourteen said Headquartered in the Department of Pathology.
Co-founder, Jessica More, in the Department of Human Biology, added: “Information [both relevant and misinformation] is spreading fast and our goal was to make sure the right information got out to as many people as possible.”
2nd 1st place: Alice Piller, Anjani Rama, Luca Bell, Imraan Dixon, Jabulisile Mthethwa, Jamie Meyer, Limpho Thipane, Sam Kuphe, Sanele Mdletshe, Siphamandla Ngwenya, Thando Kubheka and Zea Leon
Zea Leon of the Department of Computational Biology said: “As technology and research advance, so should new advances in TB research, but this is not possible without funding. Our goal is in sync with that of the United Nations, which is to increase global investment and end TB in the near future.” She added, “This research is needed for TB so that vaccines and other treatment plans can be developed.”
3approx 1st place: Asande Vilane, Ashraf Moosa, Casey Valentine, Harry Kim, Husnaa Bux, Keegan Mills, Kristen Sandys-Thomas, May Krause, Talya Kebonte and Yanelisa Pulani
Although they work in different fields, this group recognized that they will be located in clinical/research settings where they need to solve societal problems. Your project dealing with information about MDR/XDR [multidrug-resistant/extensively drug-resistant] TB gave them a new understanding of the issues most relevant to South African healthcare.
“After the course, our group realized that antibiotic resistance associated with TB poses a serious threat to its eradication. We have also gained an understanding of the factors that can lead to a patient not seeking treatment. We’ve created an infographic that touches on some of the basics of this disease and the common myths surrounding it. As COVID-19 has shown, providing information is just as important as fighting misinformation,” said Asande Vilane of the Department of Pathology.