Alumna Zainab Started a Health Literacy Project Last Year | A Catch Up

Recently our CEO Rebecca caught up with an alumna of ours: Zainab, a final year Biomedical Sciences student at QMUL, who completed the In2scienceUK programme in 2016. During the pandemic last year she started a project, called iSHA, with her sister focussing on health literacy in her community.

I completed my In2scienceUK placement in the UCL Ear Institute where I assisted on a project investigating methods to prevent age related hearing loss. Before in2scienceUK, I was set on doing medicine and thought research was boring. However, after working in the lab and learning different lab skills, I realised that research was interesting and fun! It was my first experience working in a lab and it inspired me to do a degree that could allow me to mix both my interests for medicine and research and that’s why I chose a degree in Biomedical Sciences. 

During the start of the pandemic last year she found her aspirations and ideals of being a scientist at odds with a strew of misinformation in her community. She recalls: “With the onset of Covid-19, my sister and I were fed up with the spread of misinformation seen on WhatsApp, and other social media platforms, within our Somali community. Witnessing first-hand how quick people in our community were to believe this information truly reflected poor health awareness and sparked a passion to want to strengthen the community by allowing them to differentiate false information from the truth by improving their health literacy. Being a true scientist and aspiring medic, we felt we were well placed to tackle this problem. 

To combat the spread of misinformation and improve health literacy Zainab and her sister started an initiative called iSHA that specifically aims to improve the access, understanding, appraisal and use of information and services to make decisions about health. According to the NHS, 43-61% of English adults were shown to have difficulty understanding health information. The statistics for many ethnic minorities are currently unknown. 

As a result, iSHA was created to improve Somali health awareness. “We aim to tackle the main health issues that affect the Somali community, with a focus on Covid-19, through posting educational videos on social media. We are also designing a study that highlights the effect of low health literacy on the community and the positive impact our project is making.

What’s next for Zainab and iSHA? We recently gave a talk at the World Health Innovation Summit where we discussed the UN Sustainable Development Goal 3 regarding good health and well-being. Hopefully, we will continue to speak about our work to show the importance of what we are doing. Our videos have a total of approximately 25,000 views, however, there are 108,000 British Somalis so we aim to keep growing to help empower all of them!

We inspired other students in Year 12, 13 and university to get on board with this project by providing them with a template to use in their own communities. So far, we have a branch of 5 different ethnic minority groups, including Pakistani, Gujarati, Filipino, Chinese and Korean. Hopefully, we can make a national, and perhaps, international impact!

To finish up this inspiring catchup Rebecca asked if Zainab had any tips for students who want to help make change happen: “If you are a student, do not wait until you become a professional to make a change. If you are unsatisfied with something or believe there is a problem that needs solving, then speak to academics who can help grow your idea! I never thought this project would grow this quickly, and it all started with reaching out to the enterprise team at my university. A little bit of effort is required initially and then the rest becomes a snowball effect!’’

An impressive and inspiring example of how one of our alumni takes her academic skillset into a real-world environment and manages to make a positive impact. Thank you for the wonderful catch up Zainab and good luck with all your future endeavours!