Living Below The Line – Day 1

live below line food

This is all the food I bought for 5 days living below the line. Altogether it cost exactly 5 pounds from Aldi. I was really surprised at how much I could get for my money, although I wish I could have afforded more fresh fruit and vegetables. 

live below line receipt

I thought I’d have a couple of slices of bread for breakfast – either beans on toast or bread and jam. Lunch is 100g of pasta with tomato and herb sauce. I can have 4 – 5 custard creams a day as a snack, and dinner is rice with chilli kidney beans or mushroom and tomato sauce. I can have 1 pudding a day – strawberry yoghurt or a banana. Mmmmmmmm!

live below the line mealThis is a picture of my dinner tonight. If you feel sorry for me, and you’d like to help me raise funds for Malaria No More, please donate here now. Thanks!

Malaria No More – My Real Life Story

Malaria No More have just published my Real Life Story, on their website here. They asked me to write about why I’m fundraising for them through my Just Giving page, and about my brother who became very ill with malaria.

I’m trying to raise more money for them by taking part in the Live Below The Line challenge next week; all my food and drink must cost £5 or less over 5 days.


RSC Young Analyst Competition

chemical analyst competition

Today I went to Keele University, as I had been chosen to represent the school in the RSC’s Young Analyst Competition. When we arrived at Keele, it was quite daunting because the competition took place in one of the largest teaching laboratories in the country. There were lots of machines and apparatus around us which all looked very complex. They gave us a task, with 3 experiments to identify a pollutant in a sample of river water. We worked as a team of 3, splitting the experiments between us. I had to do a high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC), to determine whether there was any naphthalene in the sample of river water, and the concentration, to see if it was the pollutant which had killed the fish in the river. 

I first had to clean the syringe with acetonitrile, before injecting the river water sample into the HPLC instrument. The run took about 6 minutes to determine the retention time of the river water sample, which showed up on the computer as a peak on a graph. I also had to record the area under the peak. I then cleaned the syringe and injected the naphthalene standard. The naphthalene standard showed a peak with a very similar retention time to the peak of the river water sample, which meant that it did contain naphthalene. I calculated the area under the peak, and used a calibration graph to calculate the concentration of naphthalene in the river water.  

The other experiments we had to do were a complex-formation titration, and a UV-VIS spectroscopy which I helped with, to find out whether the concentrations of phosphate and aluminium in the river water had changed. I really enjoyed trying out new experiments and learning how to use new equipment like the spectrometer and the HPLC instrument. 

We also had a talk about forensic science and chemistry courses at Keele which both sounded very interesting. It was nice to gain more experience of what it’s like to be in a university and learn more about some of the experiments you would do during a chemistry course. 

meg keele

Katharine House Hospice Training Day

Yesterday afternoon I went to a training day at Katharine House Hospice, in preparation for starting work experience there. We had a few talks about what to do in a fire; safe handling; food and hygiene; and infection control, which were all informative, but quite long. I found the infection control talk the most interesting. We watched a short DVD about the importance of washing hands, and keeping the hospice clean, because the patients are especially vulnerable to infections. Then a couple of people put a special gel on their hands and shook hands with everyone else at the talk. We looked at our hands under UV light, and it was fascinating to see how the gel had spread to everyone. The germs on our hands showed up, and it highlighted how infection is spread so easily, and how infections are hard to get rid of, even after washing our hands thoroughly. I’m looking forward to starting volunteering at Katharine House after my exams. 
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My World Malaria Day Presentation

APPMG meeting - Megan with Jeremy Lefroy

On Tuesday evening I travelled down to London to give a presentation about malaria to the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Malaria and Neglected Tropical Diseases (APPMG), in Westminster. The event was organized by Jeremy Lefroy, chair of the APPMG, to mark World Malaria Day on 25th April.

I first met Jeremy, when I went to Auschwitz with the Holocaust Education Trust, in February, and I discovered that, like me, he had spent time growing up in Africa. I wrote to him a few weeks later, asking him to continue to support the UK’s commitment to help halve malaria deaths in at least 10
 of the world’s most affected countries by 2015, and to support the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria. It’s already saved almost 9 million lives, but 
desperately needs topping up if it’s to continue its vital work.

I was delighted and surprised to receive a reply from the Secretary of State for International Development, as well as an invitation from Jeremy to speak about my experience at the APPMG World Malaria Day event in Westminster.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I arrived at the Houses of Parliament, but I was warmly welcomed by Jeremy, and he asked me to speak first. There were many people attending the event, including MPs and global health experts, and the theme of the evening was ‘Invest in The Future: Defeat Malaria’.

I talked about my own experience of malaria, when I was living in Malawi, and about my brother, who contracted the disease, despite the numerous efforts that we took to protect ourselves. Luckily, he was fit, strong, and had access to a private hospital where he received quick, life-saving treatment and was able to recover. But unfortunately 1,500 children still die every day from the disease, even though it’s both preventable and treatable. At the moment, the best prevention for children is to sleep under an insecticide-treated bed net, which can be bought, delivered and hung for just £5. However, I feel that, until there’s a vaccine to totally eradicate the disease, children are going to continue to slip through the net, and even one child dying from malaria is too many.

The next speaker was Dr Rob Newman, Head of the Global Malaria Programme, at the World Health Organisation (WHO), and he gave an overview of malaria today. Other panelists included Dr. Shunmay Yeung, deputy director of the ACT Consortium and a clinical senior lecturer at the London School of Health and Tropical Medicine, who talked about diagnostics; Dr Tim Wells, Chief Scientist for the Medicines for Malaria Venture (MMV), who discussed progress on drug discovery; Dr David Kaslow, director of PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative (MVI) who talked about new technologies on the horizon; and Dr Kolawole Maxwell, director of the Malaria Consortium Nigeria Programme who focused on implementation of his programmes on the ground.

I was incredibly honoured to take part in such an important evening, and I hope that my small actions might go some way to helping there be malaria no more.

You can support Malaria No More by going to my Just Giving page.


Roll Back Malaria "World

Roll Back Malaria World Malaria Day 2009

New synthetic anti-malarial could slow down resistance

According to this New Scientist article, an American company has recently discovered a way to manufacture artemisinin, the world’s most effective anti-malarial drug. In the past, artemisinic acid has always been extracted from the specially grown wormwood plant, and then made into the drug. Now, Amyris, a biotech company, can get yeast to pump out the acid, in just 3 weeks, instead of 18 months, which could make it much cheaper to produce.

However, the malaria parasite is becoming resistant to artemisinin, so this new development could help, if it is combined with other drugs. Unfortunately, some companies are still producing pure artemisinin and 25 countries still allow it to be used, which means that resistance to it is growing.

Hopefully, this new synthetic production of the drug, will make it cheaper to produce, and will out-price the pure artemisinin, so the rate of resistance slows down.

Resistance to artemisinin is mostly in Asia, but there are fears that it could spread to Africa where 90% of malaria deaths occur. It’s also been discovered that parasites in Cambodia have greater genetic resistance to the drug compared with resistant parasites in other parts of the world. Nicholas White of Mahidol University in Bangkok, Thailand, says that ‘…the most important tool needed to contain resistance is finding a genetic marker for it.’

Let’s hope that research into anti-malarial drugs continues to produce effective results, and that a genetic marker can be identified to combat the resistance of malarial parasites to the drugs. In the meantime, the use of treated bed nets is a really cheap and effective way of reducing the risk of people being bitten, especially children.

This Thursday is World Malaria Day. If you want to help to fight malaria, please click on my Just Giving page here, where a donation of £5 will buy and deliver a treated bed net for a family in Africa. Thanks!

Roll Back Malaria "World

Interview for the Aspiring Doctors Programme at Stafford Hospital

Today I was interviewed for a week’s work experience placement by Mr Gwynn MD, FRCS, FRCS(Edin), the director of the Postgraduate Centre at Stafford Hospital. He looked at my CV and asked about my grades, universities I’m looking at, and general questions about applying to medical school. He also asked me why I want to be a doctor, and what qualities I have which would make me a good doctor, as well as questions about other work experience I’ve had, and my time at Medlink. It was the first medical interview I’ve had and I thought it was a really valuable experience. I came out of it feeling very positive, especially as he offered me a place on their Aspiring Doctors Programme in July, which I’m really looking forward to. Over 5 days, I’ll be shadowing doctors in different clinical departments in the hospital, including the breast care unit, dietetics, nuclear medicine, therapy services, wards and x-ray. I shall also have the opportunity to go into surgery and learn some first aid skills. 

Talk by a 4th year medical student

Yesterday at school, a 4th year medical student from Birmingham University gave a talk to the sixth form. The talk was useful and it was interesting to get an insight into what life as a medical student is like. He gave us advice about getting into medical school; by getting varied relevant work experience, following medical news, and preparing for the admissions tests. He also told us some of the questions which come up at interviews, and about what the courses are like, e.g. integrated, PBL, or traditional. Then he explained the difference between prosections and dissections, and he also told us about doing an intercalated degree which sounds like an amazing experience, as you have the opportunity to travel anywhere. 

Letter from DFID

The other day I received this email from Lynne Featherstone MP Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, in reply to my letter about malaria.

Lynne Featherstone MP Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State

Dear Jeremy,

8 April 2013

Thank you for your email of 18 March to Justine Greening forwarding one from your constituent, Megan Owen, about the UK’s work on malaria control. I am replying as the Minister who leads on the issues raised.

As your constituent indicates the UK Government has made tackling malaria a Government priority, and has made a public commitment to help at least ten countries halve the number of malaria deaths between 2010 and 2015, and we will spend up to £500 million a year to do this. We ensure that we spend the money wisely on what works. We also know the potential for malaria deaths to rebound and are therefore striving to sustain these gains, including by working with national governments and international partners.

Through our malaria programmes and the support we provide to organisations such as the Global Fund, we will deliver more than 60 million bed-nets between 2010 and 2015. That is equivalent to one bed-net from every man, woman and child in the UK.

An example of a malaria programme that DFID funds is in Mozambique, where indoor residual spraying is used to kill the mosquitoes that spread malaria, helping to reduce transmission. This programme will help protect 5.8 million people from malaria, reducing malaria admissions to hospital by 40%, and saving up to 5,000 children’s lives.

DFID directly supports health care workers and the provision of essential health services through our programmes in many countries, which helps countries to prevent and treat malaria effectively.

If your constituent would like to know more she might want to look at the Government’s document called Breaking the Cycle: Saving Lives and Protecting the Future at This document sets out how the DFID will work with developing countries to tackle malaria.

The UK Government will continue to help countries control malaria, and reduce the number of children dying until we have properly fought this terrible disease.

I hope this reply helps to assure your constituent of the continuing priority the UK Government attaches to the fight against malaria. I would like to wish Megan well with her studies and her efforts to raise awareness and money for tackling malaria.

Kind regards,


DFID, 22 Whitehall, London SW1A 2EG | | +44 (0)20 7023 0000

Stafford Hospital goes into administration

Today, Stafford Hospital will be the first foundation trust to go into administration, as it is ‘no longer clinically or financially sustainable’. Instead, it will be run by two specially appointed administrators to ‘safeguard the future of health services’. The health regulator, Monitor, has recommended the closure of the hospital’s maternity unit, intensive care unit and accident and emergency department. Instead, it suggests patients should go to Stoke, Wolverhampton or Walsall hospitals. 

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Stafford is my local hospital, where my sister and brothers were born. My brother went to A&E there just last week and had an x-ray and plaster cast put on his ankle, which was badly sprained. It would have been much harder for him if he’d had to travel further away for treatment, but unfortunately, patients are still suspicious of what sort of care they will receive there after the scandal, and I think it will be a long time before people can forget about its history.

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According to this BBC news article, ‘Monitor said the administrators would have 145 days to work with commissioners and other local healthcare organisations to produce a plan for patients that was “sustainable in the long term”.’

This Saturday, there will be a march in Stafford town centre by the Support Stafford campaign group, which is supported by our local MP, Jeremy Lefroy.

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I have applied for work experience at Stafford Hospital in July, and I’ve got an interview there this Friday. I think it will be really interesting to compare it with Southampton Hospital where I worked in February, and with Queen Elizabeth’s Hospital in Malawi, where I worked last summer. I’ll let you know how I get on.

Revision & DNA photocopying

This holiday I’m busy revising, which is why I’ve not been posting so much on my blog. However, I thought this Daily Mail article was quite interesting.

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It is about a 17 year old boy, Fred Turner, studying for his A levels like me, who has made his own DNA photocopying machine in his bedroom. He read, on the internet, about an American who had made a similar one, and decided to try it himself to see whether his ginger-haired brother had a mutated gene causing red hair. He used an old video player to make a polymerase chain reaction machine, which he used to amplify the DNA strands he took from his brother’s cheek cells. Now he’s won an engineering prize and a place at Oxford to read biochemistry. I guess there’s some tough competition out there! Now, I’d better get on with my revision….