The World of Microbiology Goes to Kenya

Microbiology goes to Kenya

At the end of 2011, a team of LHS academics went to Nairobi in Kenya for a week to deliver their ‘World of Microbiology roadshow, using equipment that was purchased with a Wellcome Trust grant and booklets purchased with a Society for Applied Microbiology (SfAM) grant. The 2 day course was delivered to year 11, 12 and 13 students at Brookhouse International School and the Nairobi Academy.  

Drs Mohammed Ashraf, Julia Brown, Anthony Hilton and Tony Worthington introduced students to four study areas: introduction to microbiology; infectious disease, superbugs and infection control; sexually transmitted infections and foodborne infections and poisoning – and combined these with talks on career opportunities, student experiences within the field, and the value of current molecular techniques in microbiology research and diagnosis. 

The first part of the roadshow began with Introductory Microbiology with Dr Hilton. Students took part in interactive sessions which included a recreation of Anton van Leeuwenhoek’s experiment from the 1600s where he first recognised and reported bacteria from his mouth using his home-grown microscope. Dr Hilton also gave a lecture on Foodborne Infections and Poisoning, highlighting the importance of food storage, preparation and cooking in preventing infections. This interactive session allowed students the opportunity to place pieces of ‘cooked’ and ‘uncooked’ foodstuffs (plastic pizza, meat and fish etc.) in the right parts of a fridge to prevent microbial cross-contamination and subsequent infection.

Dr Worthington gave a lecture on Infection, superbugs and infection control to show students the risk factors and clinical presentations associated with healthcare and community associated infections (in particular MRSA and C. difficile). Prevention of infection is a key theme throughout the roadshow and students are taught about effective infection control measures in both the community and hospital settings. Students grew the microorganisms that live on their hands on agar plates which they incubated overnight at 37 degrees C. On day 2 they were able to compare the growth of bacteria before and after handwashing. They also practiced the six-stage formal handwashing technique with the aim of using it in everyday life. They showed how successful their handwashing techniques were with the use of UV glow cream and UV light boxes.

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are a major cause of morbidity and mortality worldwide; especially in places like sub-Saharan Africa which has 70% of the world’s HIV/AIDS population. Part of the roadshow also takes the opportunity to build upon current sex education curriculum, reinforcing the information already delivered to students in relation to STIs, as well as being given information on safe sexual practice and the use of condoms for prevention of STIs. A very popular part of the roadshow is the STI experiment where students mock up having unprotected sex with 5 different partners in the class. The rate of transmission from one infected person in the class to the whole community is tested and typically the results show an infection rate of 80% in the previously uninfected community. This provides a very strong message to students about the need to behave responsibly with their sexual health. 

Furthermore, Dr Mohammed Ashraf, who undertook his degree in Applied and Human Biology and his PhD in molecular microbiology at Aston and now uses his experience in the field to tell the class about the use of restriction enzymes that are extracted from bacteria are used in the Biotechnology industry and research.

Providing students with information regarding career opportunities is a crucial part of the roadshow. Dr Julia Brown was able to tell students about the degree programmes on offer at Aston University generally, and in LHS, in particular, and hand out prospectuses and course booklets to interested students. 

Dr Tony Worthington told Aspects: “The roadshow was a huge success for us and enabled us to establish strong links with schools in Nairobi. Both students and staff benefitted from the lectures and interactive sessions and their understanding of career opportunities, Aston University degree programmes, and the importance of joining relevant societies and professional bodies has been increased. I’m certain this work will have inspired many secondary school students in Nairobi to study microbiology at a higher level and consider a career within the discipline.”

The World of Microbiology roadshow was first supported by a Wellcome Trust Public Engagement Grant and delivered to schools within the Birmingham region. SfAM is now providing financial support for the team to deliver the roadshow on a locally and discussions are taking place about support for further international trips.

As part of this trip, the team also visited Hillcrest International School to inform students about the microbiology roadshow, career opportunities within microbiology and the various degree options available to them. Drs Brown and Ashraf also met with a member of the East African Federation Education Board which is responsible for the Nairobi Jaffrey School. As a result of these meetings, the team has already been invited to deliver the World of Microbiology roadshow to Hillcrest International School and Nairobi Jaffrey School later this year. Professor Helen Griffiths and Dr Julia Brown will visit Brookhouse International School and Nairobi Academy in February to give certificates to their students who participated in the Microbiology Roadshow and also to the Head teachers as a memento for the schools. They will also visit Hillcrest International School and Nairobi Jaffrey School to discuss details of the Microbiology Roadshow.

Words by Dr Julia Brown and Louise Russell
12 January 2012 



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