“Take us for the wrong thing, that’s dangerous to do. When you really need us, we could stop working for you” is how the antibiotic resistance advert goes, but perhaps the dancing pills don’t quite emphasise just how serious reckless antibiotic use is. Up step medical student, Clarissa Hemmingsen, who has a supreme knowledge base when it comes to antibiotics and the potential issues that can stem from antibiotic resistance. Discover how Clarissa is trying to tackle the problem below whilst maintaining a passion for other world issues such as mental health and homelessness.
My first degree was in International Relations with a year of Politics, so I’m always thinking about the future and about how institutions and structures globally affect our individual lives. The reality is antibiotic resistance is happening as we speak; it’s not a far-flung conspiracy theory. All we can do now is hold it back for as long as possible whilst we develop new techniques and methods to prevent it from exacerbating and becoming a global catastrophe.
Although antibiotic use is strictly controlled in England, this isn’t true of many other countries, for example Uganda. The Global Health Society sends a team every summer for a month to Northern Uganda to work with Gulu Medical School on rural health outreaches. They don’t have as much health education on antibiotics in the rural communities, where they also can’t afford a full course of antibiotics which contributes to antibiotic resistant bacteria developing – and that happens in many places where poverty and fewer prescribing rules exist. People then travel between countries, spreading those resistant bacteria. Without antibiotics we wouldn’t be able to have surgery or many medical procedures without a high fatality rate and, people could end up dying from scraping their knee when tripping on Oxford Road. Essentially, people would die from very common infections just like they did in the early 1920’s before antibiotics.
Support from researchers at Manchester
I got involved with antibiotic awareness in first year as I was President of the Global Health Society, and I love raising awareness and health education. So I met up with Dr Roger Harrison and we ran a big event that year for World Antibiotic Awareness Week: ‘Antibiotic Resistance: The Global Ticking Time Bomb’. We had various speakers from all over the UK and a Skype in from South Africa with TEDx speaker, Ramanan Laxminarayan who is a big deal! The event focused on introducing the audience to the history and the issues of antibiotic resistance and hopefully they will become an annual thing. Outside of these events I volunteer with Roger throughout the year addressing antibiotic resistance awareness on campus. Last year I was very proud to be named the ‘Antibiotic Guardian Student Champion 2016-2017’ by Antibiotic Guardian as part of Public Health England for the work we do in Manchester.
How to solve the issue
Raising awareness is extremely important, and from my experience running these events and working on awareness projects definitely helps but it takes everybody working together, and not just in medicine. It takes medics, scientists, researchers, public health, population health, agriculture, engineering and politics, and everyday people who take antibiotics themselves, collaborating to tackle the issue. Antibiotic resistance is one of the World Health Organisation’s key issues to address, which is really important because it needs that international pressure; and it needs international collaboration.
I’m involved in a few different things actually, probably too many things. Last semester I co-ran a weekly mental health drop-in evening called ‘Talking With Tea’ in the Communications Centre in the medical school for students to come and talk about whatever they felt the need to talk about. Topics we discussed included stress and academic/personal worries – hopefully something similar can be run again in the future as those who came hugely benefited from it. Working to remove that stigma around talking about mental health is so important, especially among medical students I’ve found.
Global Health Society
We organise health education and awareness events such as lectures and workshops, for example last semester on International Organ Donation and the black market around that, and on Female Genital Mutilation.
We’ve done events on the refugee crisis, homelessness, global abortion issues; all sorts. This past two years we tend to have a lot of events around women’s healthcare, inequality, the refugee population; vulnerable groups, because that’s really the most important thing to educate about. The reality is we’re living globally and even locally we have very deprived populations and most people who graduate from medicine at Manchester will be working with people from all walks of life – from migrant refugees, to vulnerable, deprived groups.