Looking for a cure for HIV among Ghanaian herbal remedies
Written by Samuel Jaros, student at Loyola University and participant in the 2019 Institute for Public Health Summer Research Program – Public & Global Health Track
To sum up my entire experience of the Institute for Public Health Summer Research Program – Public and Global Health Track in one word, I would have to choose ‘challenging’. I knew going into the program that I would face obstacles traveling to and performing research in a country and continent I had never been to before. However, the word ‘challenge’ often comes with negative connotations, and my experience so far has been far from negative. In fact, it has been exactly the challenge I had been seeking.
I wanted a program that was going to test how I view myself as a scientist. I believe that I am a capable researcher, but I wanted to prove to myself and others that I could learn and adapt in a literally and figuratively foreign environment. I have never performed cell cultures before, and sterile technique is more of the suggestion rather than the rule in my developmental biology lab at Loyola.
I am working with my mentor, Dr. George Kyei, Assistant Professor in the Department of Medicine, Division of Infectious Diseases, and Research Fellow at the University of Ghana’s Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research. His lab group at Noguchi is quite the opposite. I was forced to quickly adapt to protocols and standards which I had never seen before. I am happy to say that I believe I have taken these challenges in stride, and my success up to this point gives me confidence for my future career.
I knew that flying to a new country where I would clearly be an outsider would be a social hurdle. However, this challenge has been a larger issue than I first imagined. In my sociology studies in the United States, race is the focus when inequality is put under the microscope. Apart from some upper-level courses, many of my teachers have preferred to use race rather than speaking directly about skin color. My experience in Ghana so far has shown me that skin color is the much more important axis of inequality. People have charged me more, taken pictures of me, pointed me out as an outsider during social gatherings, or yelled and honked at me because my skin color is different than an extreme majority of the people of Ghana. From my experience, I am beginning to believe it is this visible difference, not the place of origin proxy that the U.S. prefers to use, which better outlines the discrimination that is present in American society. This idea is far from new, but it is only now that I have some evidence to use when outlining this different axis of inequality. I will never forget the real-world experiences I have had in Ghana due not to my family’s origin but to my fair-toned skin.
Since I have nearly a month still ahead of me in the program, there are still some challenges, which I look forward to tackling. Though I take pleasure in tackling the world of science and math, my language skills have always been far from perfect. I struggled to learn Spanish and attempts to learn words in other languages have not gone well. In my remaining time, I would like to make a real effort towards learning words and phrases of Pidgin, a derivative of English Creole which is spoken throughout Accra and in the lab. I feel like this will break down some of the barriers which prevent me from connecting with the community.
My second goal is to become comfortable enough to explore the city of Accra. Recent crimes against white tourists have kept me from venturing far beyond the university campus and common destinations like the beach and the malls. My trip to the market this past weekend was a great experience, and I would like to venture out – with others – like this more often.
My Summer Research Program experience so far has been exciting. I have been challenged in many ways, forcing me to be flexible both as a scientist and a human being. Even after some road bumps including terrible side-effects of my anti-malaria drug, I am excited to see what the remainder of the summer holds for me in Ghana.