In many developing countries in Africa where life expectancy rates are low, the proper use of antibiotics can often be the difference in life and death. Tragically, antimicrobial resistance, when improper use of antibiotics leads to them becoming ineffective against germs, has become rampant in these countries due to lack of adequate antibiotic regulation and education.

A recently-funded study led by Bernard Appiah, Dr.PH., assistant professor at the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Public Health, aims to find the most effective way to teach children and their parents about the misuse of antibiotics. The study, funded by the U.K.-based Wellcome Trust, will serve as a pilot project for use in schools in Ghana.

Appiah will lead a research team comprised of individuals from the Ministry of Health in Ghana, the Centre for Science and Health Communication and the Ghana Education Service.

Appiah’s study will take place over the course of two years at two separate schools, and will begin with a pre-test of children aged 12-16 on their knowledge, attitudes and beliefs concerning antibiotic use. The research team will then address misconceptions by developing workshops for teachers and students instructing them on the proper use of antibiotics. Finally, the students will be engaged in developing storytelling or picture drawing interventions about the importance of using antibiotics correctly.

“The ultimate goal is to see whether engaging children in the actual intervention process, changes their behavior, attitudes or beliefs,” Appiah said.

Students’ drawings and writings will be judged, and from the winners’ entries the research team will produce a short video using animation. The video will be shown to students and their parents from both schools.

“After viewing the video, we will survey the students and parents through one-on-one interviews and questionnaires to see whether their attitudes towards antibiotic use has changed,” Appiah said.

For several years, the Ministry of Health in Ghana has directed schools to teach the correct use of drugs, however, this is currently not common practice.

“The law says that individuals should receive a doctor’s prescription to purchase antibiotics. Yet due to inadequate regulation, people purchase antibiotics in drug stores at will without prescriptions,” Appiah said. “Because of the lack of counseling concerning antibiotics, individuals take them for a few days, begin to feel better and do not complete the full dosage, ultimately increasing risk of antimicrobial resistance.”

Also, because of easy access to antibiotics, many people take them for the wrong reason.

“For example, opening up capsules and putting the drug directly on wounds instead of swallowing them,” Appiah said.

Appiah has spent a large portion of his life spreading knowledge about health-related issues in Africa through various communication platforms including weekly television programs.

“It is our hope to develop an effective intervention concerning correct use of antibiotics that can be used in other African countries.”

— Rae Lynn Mitchell

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