TB takes centre stage

10 Oct 2013 - 10:30

Great divide

Great divide: The students studied the differences between the communities on either side of the water: predominantly game farmers on one side and subsistence farming communities on the other.

Drama and a comic book are among the new weapons that UCT researchers are using to fight TB in Worcester and its surrounding community.

Based on a comic book, a special play, Karina se Keuse (Carina's Choice), is playing a central role in educating the Worcester community ahead of a new TB vaccine trial targeting adolescents in the Boland town, where the incidence of TB is among the highest in the world.

Karina se Keuse's storyline closely reflects the community experience: a young mother chooses to enroll her baby in a SATVI TB vaccine trial, but encounters resistance from family and friends, based on hearsay.

Featuring a cast of teens from Worcester Senior Secondary School, the play has been staged a dozen times at seven high schools in the Worcester region, creating awareness among 7 500 adolescents about TB (and HIV) - alerting them to symptoms, dispelling myths, and illustrating the importance of drug trials.

The new trial will be launched in January 2014 by UCT's flagship South African Tuberculosis Vaccine Initiative (SATVI). SATVI is Africa's largest dedicated TB vaccine research group, and is based in UCT's Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine.

Last year physician and lead researcher on the drama project, Dr Michele Tameris, secured a Wellcome Trust International Engagement Grant to bring the play to life and to evaluate knowledge gleaned by the teens about TB, via surveys conducted by UCT social scientist Amber Abrams.

Drama has proved to be a highly efficient communication vehicle for vital health messages, says the UCT drama school's Dr Veronica Baxter. Baxter and her senior students assisted Worcester Senior Secondary School's drama teacher Natasha Africa to direct and professionalise the production.

On many levels, SATVI's relationship with the Worcester community has been carefully built and maintained. "We've conducted several TB studies among adolescents in the Worcester region over the last decade and we work closely with community leaders, teachers, and the departments of education and health to engage with high school learners and their parents," said Associate Professor Mark Hatherill, SATVI deputy director (clinical trials and epidemiology).

Hatherill added that community involvement was critical to the success of these studies. "Already, more than 20 000 people have participated in studies at the Worcester field site," he said.