ReAct Asia Pacific launched the ASPIC clubs initiative in 2018, to create a template to engage with university students on the issue of antimicrobial resistance. Since then, a number of colleges/universities from the state of Kerala has signed up for the venture; and the interest levels are going up. The first ever annual meeting of APSIC Clubs was conducted on 21st February 2019 at Hotel Aida, Kottayam, India, with an aim to bring together representatives from all the ASPIC clubs. The idea was to have a platform to share experiences and also create a sense of camaraderie among the club members from various institutions. The one-day meeting was attended by members of ASPIC clubs from different colleges and universities across the state of Kerala, India. The members consisted of both students and faculties of respective clubs from different institutions.
The context and sessions were introduced by Dr Philip Mathew, Consultant, React Asia Pacific. He explained the need to publicize the issues related to AMR and public health; and the role of students in the whole exercise. Prof Thomas Mathew, Director of School of Biosciences, Mar Thoma College, Thiruvalla, gave an inspiring session on linking science and society. He explained the evolution of science and the importance of de-jargonizing science for public consumption. Dr Keerthi TR, Professor and Former Director, School of Biosciences, MG University, sensitized the audience on the need to understand the concept of antimicrobial resistance and the ever-evolving nature of drug-resistant infections. She explained about the various models of antimicrobial resistance and its drivers in the community settings. George Varghese, Virologist at Pushpagiri Centre for Virology, also gave an invigorating talk, motivating the students to aspire for higher career opportunities in the field of biomedical research. Mr George explained the various career options available to students and outlined the paths which they can take to launch their careers. Dr Prasanth Rathinam of Pushpagiri Research Centre also encouraged the students to push the frontiers of biomedical research to explore newer possibilities in the field of AMR. The afternoon session was handled by Harish Radhakrishnan Asst Professor, School of Biosciences, Mar Thoma College; and he explained about the various strategies that can be adopted by the clubs for further addressing the issue of AMR at policy and implementation levels. The session was concluded with feedback session from all the participants, stressing on the urgency to take action on issues related to AMR.
The annual meeting was a great platform to engage students and understand their perceptions of antimicrobial resistance. Also, ReAct Asia Pacific needed a self-appraisal on progress of the student engagement initiatives. It was found that the level of understanding of students was quite good, but they needed a helping hand in translating the understanding into definite community based actions. All the students expressed the need for more robust communication mechanisms which can enable the various clubs to stay in touch. The participants wanted more programmes which can improve the capacity of the students in taking action on antimicrobial resistance.
“Initiatives like this can go a long way in integrating science to the larger society; and make students realise the importance of what they learn”
Dr Jinu John, Asst Professor of Biotechnology, CMS College, Kottayam, India
The following decisions were taken at the meeting:
1- The ASPIC seed fund has been extremely beneficial in facilitating various community based programmes conducted by the various ASPIC clubs. The various club leaders said that the seed fund, although limited to Rs. 5000, was instrumental in ensuring relative financial independence to students in organizing activities. It was decided to continue providing the seed fund for 2019 calendar year also.
2- Many students had expressed the desire to improve communication between the various clubs. Therefore it was decided to start a Whatsapp group for the ASPIC club initiative, with the leaders of individual clubs as members. Lijo Cyril, Junior consultant, ReAct Asia Pacific, was entrusted with the responsibility of starting and managing the Whatsapp group.
3- The exposure of students to microbiology techniques and latest advances in molecular biology is minimal. Since it is required to enhance the career skills and employability of the students, apart from increasing their understanding of antimicrobial resistance, it was decided that ASPIC clubs will facilitate visits to well-established labs. The faculty from Pushpagiri Research Centre expressed keen interest to take in students in batches; and give basic training in microbiology investigations and molecular biology techniques like Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR).
4- It was also decided that each of the clubs will conduct at least one public event related to antimicrobial resistance, in the current calendar year. ReAct Asia Pacific agreed to facilitate the resource persons for the events and activities, if the requirement is intimated in advance.
5- The meeting called on ReAct Asia Pacific to continue supporting the ASPIC club initiative as it’s in nascent stages of development. It’s very early to evaluate the sustainability of the initiative; and may need support for some more time. Once more clubs join the bandwagon, the issue of sustainability may be addressed.