6 October 2020: Yale-NUS students contributing to COVID-19 healthcare causes

By Lim Wei Da

As the battle against COVID-19 continues, some Yale-NUS College students have joined in the fight by participating in research and healthcare projects.

Madhumitha Ayyappan (Class of 2023), a student on the Yale-NUS & Duke-NUS Liberal Arts and Medicine Pathway, conducted research on the medical syndromes of Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS), such as COVID-19, under the Yale-NUS Summer Research Programme (SRP). The Programme enables Yale-NUS students to pursue funded research in Singapore or overseas during the mid-year break.

Madhumitha Ayyappan (Class of 2023) conducted research on the medical syndromes of COVID-19. Image provided by Madhumitha Ayyappan.

Madhumitha explained that while COVID-19 is a respiratory disease, the virus does not show typical signs of acute respiratory distress syndrome, meaning that doctors might need to adapt their treatment for different COVID-19 patients. For her project, she worked with another student, Jia Tang (Class of 2022), Yale-NUS Research Fellow Dr Willem van den Boom, and a respiratory physician at the National University Hospital (NUH) to study ICU patient records to better understand how respiratory distress syndromes like COVID-19 could affect the lungs of its patients.

On her research experience, Madhumitha said, “At Yale-NUS, I am constantly being exposed to new modes of thought which has made me less fearful of the unknown. My summer research also reinforced the importance of a multidisciplinary education. COVID-19 is an unprecedented challenge, and our research was only possible given an understanding of data science and medicine. I am really thrilled that our research is able to positively impact the world, and we are currently in the process of publishing a research letter. As the field of medicine is becoming more data-driven, I hope to utilise the skills I have picked up in this project towards my dream of becoming a clinician scientist.”

Gabrielle Charis A. Tagtag (Class of 2023) worked as an intern at SingHealth Duke-NUS Global Health Institute where she conducted research on COVID-19 policies to contain the pandemic.

Gabrielle Charis A. Tagtag (Class of 2023) conducted research on COVID-19 policies. Image provided by Gabrielle Charis A. Tagtag.

Charis said, “At my internship, I helped to compile studies on the effectiveness of control measures in Asian countries such as lockdowns or social distancing. I then mapped out case figures for each country showing how these measures impacted daily infection numbers, allowing us to understand which policies can best tackle the spread of COVID-19”.

Charis said that her team eventually published a paper for the National Health Economics and Policy Division of the Saudi Health Council (SHC), allowing their research to aid the formulation of COVID-19 health policies.

With her passion to contribute to public health, Charis hopes to specialise in health policy through the Concurrent Degree Programme with the Yale School of Public Health. After her studies, Charis intends to return to the Philippines and help advocate for health system reforms.

She said, “I am thankful to all the health professionals I have worked with and learned from. Global health requires an interdisciplinary approach, and I am glad that my education at Yale-NUS has provided me with foundations and values to analyse public health interventions from different angles and lenses. I hope to continue contributing to health policies for a safer, more equitable world”.

Besides those who pursued research in Singapore, other students have participated in overseas internships related to the fight against COVID-19. Hunter Davis (Class of 2022) worked as an intern at Clarity, an infectious disease laboratory and manufacturer of rapid diagnostic equipment based in Florida, United States of America.

Hunter Davis (Class of 2022) assisted in the operations of COVID-19 testing in Florida, USA. Image provided by Hunter Davis.

Hunter assisted in the operations of COVID-19 testing, such as tracking patient information, reporting results to doctors and health officials, and communicating with patients. “In early April, testing materials were in extremely short supply, causing result turnaround times to go up in nearly all the laboratories. As such, many patients took out their frustrations on us. However, I realised that the patients were simply scared of what was unknown to them – and all of us – about this disease. By carefully explaining what was going on, I was able to calm them down and provide them assurance that we would all get through this”.

At Clarity, Hunter also helped pick up COVID-19 samples and started a programme to send nurses to people’s homes who could not make it to clinics to get tested. With this experience, Hunter hopes to pursue a career in healthcare and improve the US healthcare system.

He said, “I am thankful for the life skills lunches organised by Yale-NUS which helped me improve my communications skills, which was crucial at my internship. While the US has been badly affected by the pandemic, I see myself as very lucky as my friends and family are mostly safe. I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute in a meaningful way to the fight against COVID-19. I am extremely thankful for the front-line healthcare workers who put themselves in much more danger than I ever had to”.