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28 June 2019

Reflections of my internship at the Desmond Tutu Tuberculosis Centre, Cape Town

by Rachel Morse

Rachel Morse went on an internship to the Desmond Tutu Tuberculosis Centre in Cape Town as part of her Global Health and Social Medicine undergraduate course.

Cape Town, South Africa
Rachel Morse went on an internship to the Desmond Tutu Tuberculosis Centre in Cape Town

Undergraduate student, Rachel Morse from the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine undertook an internship in the Desmond Tutu Tuberculosis Centre in Cape Town, South Africa as part of her course. She writes about her experiences here:

Rachel Morse
Rachel Morse

I was given the chance to work with the social science team at the Desmond Tutu Tuberculosis Centre on a variety of qualitative research projects on child tuberculosis (TB) in South Africa. It was the summer of 2018, just before my final year at King's, which gave me the unique opportunity to undertake my research dissertation while doing the internship.

My experience was invaluable. Throughout my time in Cape Town, I had the chance to observe, experience and learn about the complex circumstances contributing to South Africa's high TB burden. The team were extremely welcoming and always provided invaluable advice. I was their colleague and their mentee, and they allowed me to join in on discussions and contribute to the research, plus ask questions and explore my interests. The whole experience brought my studies to life!

I spent the first two years of my degree learning about the myriad of cultural, social, political and historical components that contribute to health and wellbeing. In Cape Town, I saw first-hand how all of these aspects consistently interact and contribute to the complexity of eradicating diseases like TB. I also had the opportunity to conduct research and work alongside an experienced, knowledgeable team of social science researchers. 

While working with the team, I gained insight into a variety of paediatric TB studies. For instance, I conducted interviews for a project studying children's and caregivers' experiences of acceptability (including palatability) of TB drug regimens. We also spoke with children who had had TB at some point in their lives, in order to learn about how they view the experience. 

As part of the interviews, we asked the children to be chefs and tell us how they would make the perfect TB medication, asking questions along the lines of: what flavour would the medication be, or how would you design the box for the medicine? All of this provided an insight into their experience as TB patients, including uncovering the difficulties of taking TB medications (i.e. the terrible taste or the long list of side effects).

It was clear that TB treatment for children is extremely difficult for both the child and the caregiver. As such, the research we did was rewarding yet challenging, and evidently important for improving the treatment experience. 

The interdisciplinary nature of this internship complemented and contributed to my studies and passion from improving global health. By working with the social science team at the TB Centre, I had the opportunity to transform my lecture-based learning and apply theory to the real world. Overall, my colleagues enhanced and expanded my knowledge and problem solving skills – and laid the foundations for a potential future career in global health.