A theater project that takes health education to Malawi is getting some renewed attention at the SEB Centenary Conference 2023 in Scotland, where Society for Experimental Biology (SEB) participants learned about the drama-based techniques used to communicate the risks of African sleeping sickness in Rumphi and Nkhotakota.
The sleeping sickness, formally known as African Trypanosomiasis, is caused by a parasitic infection transmitted by the tsetse fly in sub-Saharan Africa. Fever, headaches and fatigue, swollen lymph nodes, a rash, and aching muscles and joints are common symptoms. If left untreated, the illness can prove fatal within weeks to months.
There is no vaccine, but treatment is available. It requires follow-up monitoring for a long period of time (two years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States), and education about the disease is key. So is limiting the spread of African sleeping sickness, with global efforts proving successful in reducing the number of cases across the last two decades.
For Dr. Nicola Veitch and other experts at the University of Glasgow, the innovative approach is a public health education success in Malawi. The Parasite Street Science program relies on music, costumes, games and more to connect with village audiences and share life-saving information. The initiative also uses radio programming for community outreach.
University partners include Kamuzu University of Health Sciences and Malawi VOICES, as well as the Wellcome Centre for Integrative Parasitology and theater and circus professionals from the Surge organization in Scotland.
The SEB conference, with its focus on innovative approaches to science, wrapped up on Friday.
Image: Annette Mcleod Lab/University of Glasgow