Internship allows biomed students to spread vaccination awareness in Nigeria

Rilee Malloy | Staff Writer

Students in the biomed program are taking their passion for medicine worldwide.

Through the biomed program at MHS, Junior Siddarth Varman was introduced to the Leadership Initiative, an internship that allowed him to pick an international area and a problem within that area and work to develop a solution. He was quickly joined by fellow biomed students Shishir Annamaneni, Snehil Pulluri, Vanesh Patel, and Neev Gupta. Together they developed a team that would focus on making free immunizations available in Bauchi State, Nigeria.

A year long project, Varman and his team are currently working on finalizing their research on Bauchi State and working to develop a solution. However, Gupta is concerned they may be confronted with a general sense of mistrust in the Bauchi State Community, which may have impacts on the effectiveness of their plan.

“There’s a lot of corruption and [people] don’t really believe that something is necessarily free,” Gupta said. “[Many people] also have a general distrust for Western Medicine.”

While researching, Varman and his team have also been brainstorming ways to effectively get vaccinations to the Bauchi State community. The team believes that if community members get another benefit from getting vaccinated, they will be more likely to participate.

“Incentivizing vaccines [would mean] for a little kid if we want them to get vaccinated, give a toy,” Varman said.  “For adults [give them] some household items so that they get a benefit out of getting vaccinated.”

Along with combating the mistrust of Western Medicine from people in Bauchi State, Gupta and  the team have also had to adapt to spreading the word in a country with a low literacy rate. According to Our World Data, the literacy rate in Bauchi State has been estimated to be 25.1% among females and 39.8% among males.

“We have to be able to communicate all of this information mostly through pictures,” Gupta said. “[Along with] finding which people in the community we can try to convince to spread the word to have the greatest impact.”

The team plans to raise money monthly in order to fund their goals and ambitions for Bauchi State Nigeria. Although learning more about medicine is what drove them to the cause, after extensives amounts of research that has enlightened them on the lack of immunization awareness and the community dynamic in Bauchi State, they have found that they are in it not only for the learning experience, but also to give back to a community in need.

“The people don’t have basic stuff like shelter, education and healthcare so giving back to the community is why we wanted to do this,” Gupta said. 

Bauchi State Nigeria may seem far away for most, but for the members of this team it has a close place in their heart. According to Gupta, this has internship broadened their horizons, allowed the team members to learn more about public health, and, most importantly, has taught them about the importance of helping others.

“Helping other communities is important,” Gupta said. “You make yourself a better person and you also help other people. [We wanted to] learn about medicine, we wanted to become better students. [But] the people don’t have basic stuff like shelter, education and healthcare so giving back to the community is why we wanted to do this.”

Graphic by Lexi Brown