Mary-Theresa Usuanlele - MSc in Applied Health Sciences (Health Sciences)

Faculty of Applied Health Sciences

Mary-Theresa Usuanlele - MSc in Applied Health Sciences (Health Sciences)

The focus of my current research examines "Soil-Transmitted Helminthic Infections, Nutrition and Growth in School-age Children from Rural Communities in Honduras".

I developed a keen interest for infectious diseases while pursuing undergraduate studies in Microbiology and an MSc in Cellular Parasitology back in Nigeria, where I am originally from. These programs led me to appreciate the devastating effects of parasitic diseases on human development especially in developing countries where poverty, illiteracy, poor hygienic practices, combined with favourable climatic and environmental conditions for the thriving of these parasites.

Our target population was children enrolled in primary schools in rural communities. The peak of infections for these worms is reported in school-age children, where they are associated with several health and developmental problems.

After obtaining the necessary approvals (ethical, schools’ principals’, parental and children assents), we conducted a cross-sectional study among school-age children residing in several rural communities of the department of Olancho, Honduras.

To assess exposures to risk factors for these infections, demographic and epidemiological data were obtained from the children through a face-to-face interview using a standardized questionnaire. School principals were also interviewed and school environmental conditions were assessed.

Prevalence and intensity of the worms among the children was measured by collecting their stool samples and analyzing them in the lab using the Kato-Katz technique. This is because in infected persons, the adult female worms lay eggs that are passed out in feaces. These eggs are detected by laboratory techniques such as the Kato-Katz technique.

To assess the children’s growth, anthropometric measures of weight (using a digital electronic balance) and height (using a height pole) were taken. The figures obtained were then computed into the 2007 WHO Anthroplus software along with the children’s age and sex in order to obtain the z-scores of height for age (HAZ), weight for age and body-mass-index (BMI) for the age of each child. These z scores are used to assess certain indicators of malnutrition or growth deficits such as stunting, underweight and thinness. Therefore, height-for-age, weight-for-age, and BMI-for-age z-scores neded to be less than -2 standard deviations (SD) from the mean of the 2007 WHO growth reference for school-aged children and adolescents (which we used) will indicate stunting, underweight and thinness respectively.

Other nutritional conditions were assessed through blood. Blood samples were obtained to assess total proteins as well as hemoglobin concentration to determine anemia. The estimation of total proteins was done by refractometry and hemoglobin concentration was assessed by an auto hematology analyzer.

The field implementation of the study in Honduras was particularly very interesting and was a very good learning experience for me. Prior to this I had never been involved in any field work of that nature. Analysis and interpretation of the data was another aspect of the study that I appreciated. It provided a context and really gave meaning to the whole study.

In a desire to pursue my research aspirations, I checked out graduate program websites of several schools. When I visited Brock’s website, I saw that the objectives of the MSc program in the faculty of Applied Health Sciences were tailored to my needs. Then I searched for a willing and suitable Professor to work with in the program. Dr. Ana Sanchez’s profile matched my needs and after our initial contact and an interview with her, I became more convinced that, if given the opportunity, Brock University and Dr. Sanchez would be the best facilitators for my research aspirations. I am glad to be given that opportunity.

Studying at Brock has been a very great experience for me. The experience of a one-on-one interaction with my supervisor, the opportunity to work as teaching assistant, interactions with other graduate students, opportunities to present at conferences etc. have all been very rewarding. When I look back at my teaching, writing, presenting and analytical skills prior to Brock, I am amazed at how much I have gained in 2 years.

I will definitely recommend Brock to anyone considering graduate studies here. Some advice for incoming graduate students would be to first look for a supervisor who is doing work in your area of interest and don’t hesitate to make the contact.

Funding and Awards:

Teasdale-Corti Project Research Fellowship 2010-2011