For the first time, after eight years of collaborative work, results are published in Lancet Infectious Disease describing the positive impact of the introduction of pneumococcal conjugate vaccines in a low-income country. But how do you go about measuring this ‘impact’? Principal Investigator of the Pneumococcal Surveillance Project at MRC Unit, The Gambia, Dr Grant Mackenzie, explains the human resource required for large-scale disease surveillance in rural Africa, the challenges and the rewards.
The study team
Pneumococcal disease is caused by a bacterium known as Streptococcus pneumoniae. Symptoms range from sinus and ear infections to pneumonia, bloodstream infections, and meningitis. The pneumococcus bacteria cause more deaths in children worldwide than any other single microorganism and those in low-income countries are particularly at risk.
MRC Unit, The Gambia has conducted pneumococcal research for over two decades. It started with a disease burden study in 1989, in the Basse area in the rural east of The Gambia, which established the substantial burden of invasive pneumococcal disease.
Faith Osier (Image copyright: Duncan Willetts Photography)
It was announced yesterday that Dr Faith Osier, a Kenya-based recipient of an MRC/DFID African Research Leader award and a Wellcome Trust Intermediate Fellowship in Public Health and Tropical Medicine, has won the 2014 Royal Society Pfizer Prize. The prize recognises African scientists making an innovative contribution to biological sciences. We asked her to reflect on what this international recognition means.
Any milestone in your career ― like winning this prize, or the fellowship I received last year from the MRC and the Department for International Development ― makes you stand back and take stock.
For me it’s a cause for celebration and appreciation. It makes me appreciate the community that transformed a little girl growing up in Kenya into an international award-winning scientist. From my parents and grandparents, who had the foresight to send all their girls, as well as boys, to school; to all my teachers, educators and mentors; and the wider community that shaped me ― here’s a toast to you! Read more
Andrew Bastawrous, an eye surgeon at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, won last year’s Max Perutz Science Writing Award with an article explaining the importance of his research developing smartphone apps for checking eye health. As we launch this year’s competition, Andrew explains what winning the award did for him, and provides a few tips for budding writers.
Andrew with his wife Madeleine and son Lucas (left), and the whole research team (Image copyright: Andrew Bastawrous)
Why did you enter the Max Perutz Science Writing Award?
A fellow PhD student at the university sent me the link and suggested I should apply. It made sense to write an article explaining the project in non-scientific terms as I was always being asked by friends and family what it was that I was doing. This was the perfect opportunity to distill my thoughts into a form that could be understood by everyone and that I could direct people to if they were interested. I never expected to end up winning the competition.
How did taking part in the competition and winning the award change your thoughts about science communication?
Having to sit down and write something without jargon made me look at my work in a different light. Trying to see something you are deeply involved in from a more distant and very different perspective can be quite challenging, but very refreshing. The question set to us was, “Why does your research matter?” Getting to the heart of that question meant engaging with the emotion that drives the work in the first place.
The whole process has made me appreciate good writers and their ability to present complex information in an engaging way. It has also encouraged me to write about the everyday scientific work I’m doing in Kenya in a manner that can be understood by friends and family. Read more