A team of young science students has won an industry education grant to develop a novel campaign against potentially deadly meningococcal disease.
The UTS Faculty of Science undergraduates have designed an emotional awareness promotion aimed at their peers, an age group at risk from a disease that has seen a significant spike in infections over the past three years.
Artworks created by meningococcal survivors to elicit a deep emotional response from young people will be showcased at an interactive arts festival called VAX & ATE. Survivors of meningococcal disease will be present to talk and connect with students.
Team member, and final year Medical Science student, Keisha Prasad says that before her involvement in the campaign she and her fellow team members had no personal connection to the disease nor really understood the potential impacts.
“As we got more involved we connected with a former UTS student who'd contracted an invasive form of the disease and lost all his limbs. We didn’t think these things happened.
“Now we have a personal connection [to meningococcal disease] and we hope our campaign will make it personal for other UTS students as well,” she says.
The grant is the result of an innovative partnership between UTS Science and Sanofi Pasteur, the vaccinations arm of global healthcare giant Sanofi.
Students studying human pathophysiology in the UTS school of life sciences attended a series of workshops led by Sanofi Pasteur experts, forming teams to devise ways to educate their peers about meningococcal disease.
“All too often in Australia we take [the battle against] infectious diseases for granted,” says Dr Hui Chen, the medical doctor and UTS academic who developed the human pathophysiology course.
“This is hardly surprising as our health care system is among the best in the world, and rates of infectious diseases are low.
“However, this sometimes leads to complacency, especially among young adults who perceive risk differently to older people.”
Dr Chen worked with infectious diseases expert Associate Professor Brian Oliver to help the students create their innovative campaigns. The top five teams pitched their ideas to Sanofi Pasteur senior executives, with the winning team receiving a $5,000 educational grant to implement their idea.
“The students have a wide knowledge of the clinical aspects of different human diseases,” says Dr Chen. “This collaboration allowed them to solve a real-life problem in the classroom.”
Mr Russell Jacobsen, General Manager ANZ Sanofi Pasteur said that this pilot project brought together academia and industry to work together.
“This collaboration has allowed industry and the university to work together in an innovative and creative way to respond to a current public health issue in Australia,” he said.
WHAT IS MENINGOCOCCAL DISEASE?
• Meningococcal disease is rare among high school and university students but its onset is rapid and it can be fatal
• Typical symptoms include a rash, vomiting, fever, headache and/or stiff neck, drowsiness, sensitivity to bright light, joint pain
• Vaccines are available in Australia for each of the most common strains of the disease – A, B, C, W and Y
• A new vaccine that targets strains A, C, W and Y is part of the national immunisation program for very young children, in response to a surge in notifications
• NSW Health is funding the MenACWY vaccine for adolescents aged 15 to 19 years while the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee considers listing it for all Australian adolescents
• Hygiene precautions such as hand-washing and cough etiquette will minimise the risk of infection.
The winning team of Yeshi Tsomo, Mohammad Al-Qazwini, Keisha Prasad, Harris Jabbour and Wayne But will unveil their campaign at the Vax & Ate interactive arts festival on UTS Alumni Green, Tuesday 27 March, 11am-4pm.