Combating Superbugs Through Comic Books (VIDEO)

From antimicrobial resistance to COVID-19, infectious diseases physician Dr. Hsu Li Yang is tackling the world’s most pressing public health issues through comic books.

AsianScientist (Sep. 24, 2020) – People nowadays barely flinch at paper cuts, but there was once a time when open wounds of any sort often resulted in rotting flesh, blood poisoning—or worse, death. Such grisly outcomes were a common occurrence until the 1928 discovery of the first antibiotic, penicillin. Today, antibiotics are used to treat serious bacterial infections, promote the growth of livestock and even maintain the health of farmed seafood.

It turns out, though, that there can be too much of a good thing when it comes to antibiotics. Decades of overuse have given rise to a phenomenon known as antimicrobial resistance (AMR). Though most bacteria die when exposed to antibiotics, some fight back—having evolved the ability to overcome the treatment. Should these microorganisms gain resistance to other antibiotics, they can transform into ‘superbugs’ that are far more challenging to treat.

Dr. Hsu Li Yang, Vice Dean of Global Health at the National University of Singapore’s (NUS) Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, has made it his life’s mission to battle these superbugs. As the Infectious Diseases Programme Leader, Hsu spearheads research on the role health systems play in the spread of AMR, as well as how different environments might facilitate or hinder the spread of drug-resistant bacteria.

His research efforts, however, aren’t just limited to Singapore. Currently, his team is working with hospitals in Cambodia to help set up antibiotic stewardship teams, where healthcare staff audit and provide advice on antibiotic prescription in hospitals. Such initiatives could prevent the unnecessary or inappropriate use of antibiotics, particularly in low-resource settings that lack the capacity to diagnose infections caused by resistant bacteria.

To bring greater public awareness to AMR, Hsu teamed up with award-winning graphic novelist Sonny Liew last year to create The Antibiotic Tales, a comic that addresses common questions about the medication, as well as the stark consequences of overuse. For Hsu, comics represent a novel way to share information and knowledge about issues like AMR.

“It may reach those who pay little attention to mainstream media,” he explained. “The imagery and brief text may convey concepts or messages in a way that attracts attention more than lengthy prose.”

In light of COVID-19 and the resulting infodemic, Hsu and Liew have joined forces once more to address the world’s most immediate challenge. Their comic series, called “Baffled Bunny and Curious Cat” follows the adventures of the anthropomorphic duo as they tackle the differences between the influenza and SARS-CoV-2 viruses, as well as the proper use of masks, among other issues.

“It’s important to capture a sense of what happened and how the world changed from multiple viewpoints, even via comic books,” said Hsu. “Beyond what we’ve already tackled, it will be good to discuss what might keep transmission of the virus down, dispel some COVID-19 myths and explain how a vaccine might (or might not) work.”

Although all eyes may be on COVID-19 for now, Hsu is hopeful that the lessons learned from the pandemic can be applied to other public health issues, including AMR.

“COVID-19 has truly shown the importance of global health. No country is really going to be out of the woods until the virus has been brought under control in virtually every country in the world,” concluded Hsu.


Copyright: Asian Scientist Magazine.
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.

A molecular biologist by training, Kami Navarro left the sterile walls of the laboratory to pursue a Master of Science Communication from the Australian National University. Kami is the former science editor at Asian Scientist Magazine.

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