A Review of the Use of Citizen Science to Engage Communities in Public Health
Citizen science makes use of collaboration with communities and the public to conduct research, collect and analyse data and attempt to develop new solutions and applications to tackle issues (1). It engages communities, perks curiosity and gives people a chance to contribute to research affecting their own communities. As a student who is interested in global health, I will be giving my insight into citizen science and how two papers published by the Childhood Infections and Pollution (CHIP) Consortium members have used citizen science to increase community engagement in public health.
The research conducted in both papers, pertaining to informal settlements and slums in countries such as India and Indonesia, contains great examples of community-centred approaches to understanding where public health issues such as antimicrobial resistance (AMR) and infection transmissions emerge from. The individuals in these communities are at the core of the methodology; resulting in better understanding of the findings and stronger community engagement. Ultimately, this approach allows the community as a whole to understand the causes of the public health issues they face, and therefore offers them possible ways in which they can collectively tackle these issues.
The first paper titled ‘Operationalizing a One Health approach to reduce the infection and antimicrobial resistance (AMR) burden’ (2) focuses on the issue that communities that often suffer from the effects of AMR inhabit areas where AMR levels are the highest. Parikh et al. suggest that the factors which make these communities most vulnerable to the effects of AMR include poor regulatory governance and antibiotic misuse. The findings also highlight certain structural and socio-demographic factors, such as overcrowding, which are important infection determinants that contribute to AMR. It was important to emphasise these, as communities need to be aware of the key infection transmission and AMR-related factors within their environment as described within the findings in order to address the issues by working collectively. However, the way the findings have been presented may be slightly difficult to follow which could potentially decrease the reader’s engagement with this research paper.
The method for this research included 1-to-1 interviews with mothers and community members, which gave the researchers an insight to the public’s understanding of infections and their pathways. In turn, this increased the public’s understanding of infection pathways and possibly started a dialogue within the community about how they could better educate themselves on this topic, as well as attempting to come up with a solution. Additionally, Parikh et al. undertook transect walks, which helped them increase community engagement in public health across several communities. In my opinion, this approach could have definitely made an impact on the public’s engagement as the researchers took an immersive approach which put the individuals of those communities at the forefront of their research.
The second paper titled ‘COVID-19 and Informal Settlements - Implications for Water, Sanitation and Health in India and Indonesia’ (3) builds on the ideas of the first paper and includes another study into sanitation and hygiene in the context of COVID-19. This paper’s primary focus is on the impact of poor environment and the lack of access to personal protective equipment and sanitation on the spread of infections and COVID-19. Unlike the previous study, this research involves observing the communities to find points of infection, including narrow streets, blocked drains, community toilets and water collection points. This enables communities to consider and have a better understanding of these factors which ultimately increases the community’s engagement in public health. The way the findings have been presented is not as complicated as in the first paper: the authors have clearly laid out the factors which they believe could have increased the severity of infection pathways.
Moreover, Parikh et al. have spoken of the impact that the COVID-19 lockdown restrictions have had on infection pathways in these communities which emphasises the need for restrictions that are easy to apply to informal settlements. The public being aware of these needs puts them in a good position to put pressure on policy makers to supply these communities with personal protective equipment and enforce hygiene and appropriate restriction measures to lower the cases of infections and COVID-19.
I believe that the methods used by Parikh et al. in both papers have great potential in increasing community engagement in public health. Although they take different approaches when it comes to conducting the research and presenting the findings, I think that they have both been successful in different ways. The use of citizen science to aid the research and increase community engagement has encouraged communities to be a part of the solution. As a young person who is interested in studying this subject, citizen science is a very useful tool to learn about, especially in this field of global health.
Sacdiyo Abdulahi (aged 17) is a student in London, writing for Aceso Global Health Consultants as a part of her Nuffield Research Placement Programme. The programme is funded by the Nuffield Foundation and delivered by STEM Learning. It facilitates students to engage in hands-on research projects, where students have the opportunity to make a meaningful contribution towards the work of a host organisation.
To learn more about One Health and ways in which this principle can be promoted, read the article Bringing the One Health Approach into the Mainstream.
United States Environmental Protection Agency. Citizen Science for Environmental Protection. United States Environmental Protection Agency. [External Link] Accessed 20th July 2021.
Manikam, L., Bou Karim, Y., Boo, Y.Y., Al Laham, S., Marwaha, M., Parikh, P., Lakhanpaul, M. Operationalising a One Health approach to reduce the infection and antimicrobial resistance (AMR) burden in under-5 year old urban slum dwellers: The Childhood Infections and Pollution (CHIP) Consortium. One Health. [External Link] Published December 2020. Accessed 20th July 2021.
Parikh, P., Bou Karim, Y., Paulose, J., Factor-Litvak, P., Nix, E., Aisyah, D.N., Chaturvedi, H., Manikam, L., Lakhanpaul, M. COVID-19 and Informal Settlements - Implications for Water, Sanitation and Health in India and Indonesia. UCL Open: Environment Preprint. [External Link] Published 2nd June 2020. Accessed 20th July 2021.