Talking about the people’s health in a way the people understand

My friend and former classmate Blake Hendrikson sent me a link to an outbreak of Mumps at a University in the heart of the American midwest. Blake was the one who helped craft my application letter for the International AIDS Vaccine Fellowship I am doing at the moment and he now works as an epidemiologist in his home US state of Nebraska. This reminded me of a podcast by Nina Martin, founder of US based Public Health United ( about the latest anti-vaccine propaganda film – Vaxxed. The common thread is that film advances the notion that the vaccine against Measles Mumps Rubella (MMR) is a serious threat to public health, purportedly causing autism in children who receive the vaccine. I wonder whether the outbreak in Nebraska is a consequence of such messaging that aims to dissuade people from vaccinating their children against these three disease.

It goes without saying that it is misguided, to put it mildly, to believe that the MMR vaccine causes autism. There is just insufficient evidence to link the vaccine to autism, while there is a great body of evidence showing there is absolutely no association between autism and this vaccine. Nina does a great job of reviewing the claims made by the film and debunking each one of them during her interview on the May 1st edition of This Week in Virology ( I will not elaborate further on this point, as Nina does it so well. In fact, her aspiration is to enter science communication.

In my current role as a research fellow, I find that I have not considered this avenue. Most of what I am doing is data analysis, literature review, application for scholarships to attend conferences (I am glad to say I will be attending AIDS 2016, I hope to see you all there! – the stuff academics in public health do. But what about communication? Some people do it so elegantly, Nancy Krieger being one of them – having actually written a whole book – Epidemiology and the people’s health – an explanation of why some people get sick and others don’t, leaving no strings untied.

So I then ask myself, what could I do in this field? Could I use my writing to this end? Why should we care about science communication – the stakes are human lives.

Before even thinking about the answer to that question, I want to find out what my host organization has created to communicate the science of Tuberculosis, its causes, treatment and prevention. I know they have a mobile clinic that has more than just a boom-box and colorful paintings to attract teenagers – it has understanding nurses. Yet I do not know how they communicate concepts such as TB latency, treatment adherence and interaction with HIV, concepts which are potentially confusing.

I should find out, while I work on the paper.


About writinghealth

Wannabe Epidemiologist? Wannabe med anthro person? I guess. Christian, scientist (not Christian scientist), i mean like I studied molecular biology and I part of the RC Church. I also completed a Masters of Public Health, at the University of Cape Town, in Epidemiology and Biostatistics.
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