Interview with Nidhi Singh

Nidhi collecting data outside the hospital

Tell us a bit about yourself, Nidhi.

I started an integrated course for MPhil and PhD in 2013. I was registered on two semester courses in the beginning that were subjective in nature. For two years I have been working on my research project.

What do you want to do next?

I want to get position in BHU as a lecturer. But as there is an unavailability of posts sometimes, in such a case, I want to pursue postdoctoral fellowship abroad.

Why is it that staying in India is your preference?

Whatever I have learned here and gained I want to communicate to the students here so they get to experience what I did. I want to do continue research on a regional basis. This is why I prefer working in Varanasi.

Would you say that staying in India is scientifically important or socially important?

It is scientifically as well as socially important. Once they have good research based on specific data, local communities can take seasonal mitigative steps like widening sewers and directing the flow of water.Policies and plans the government makes are based on the data that scientists have done research on. So, unless and until we have knowledge on particular areas it would be tough to deal with problems locally.        

Can you describe your project to me?

Climate consists of several parameters like temperature, rainfall, relative humidity and radiations. Now, these climatic parameters have several impacts on our life. These are important for our survival, important for crops etc. It has been seen that climatic parameters like temperature and humidity play a very important role in spread and transport of diseases like tuberculosis, diarrhoea, malaria, kala-azar and pneumonia. For example, we know that pathogens get entangled in droplets. When a person who has tuberculosis sneezes, the bacteria entangled in droplets or dust particles and can affect a person up to 500-300 meters in radius. Similarly, a person having cardiac issues can get troubled in high temperatures like 48-50 ℃. Heat stress is another problem caused by dehydration in extreme of temperature. In winters when the temperature goes very low, the immune system of the body weakens and a person can easily catch a disease. Most importantly, from July to October – pre-monsoon and post-monsoon – mosquitoes breed on stagnated water bodies. During those days vector-borne disease like chikungunya, kala-azar and encephalitis become very frequent. So this is where I start from: climatic parameters have influence on the diseases. What I am doing mostly is collecting data. I need a climatic data on daily basis from 1971-2011 for all these parameters. Now I am collecting data particular to the diseases I mentioned. And then I correlate the numbers of patients of a particular disease and the climatic condition. So, I have two kind of data, one is health data and other is climate data.

Can you tell us more about the health data?

I collect data from January to December throughout the year from Sir Sunderlal Hospital in BHU.

What diseases do you have data for?

We take data for pneumonia, diabetes, tuberculosis, diarrhoea, dengue, malaria, chikungunya and encephalitis. TB and diarrhoea cause a lot of deaths in this region. Children under five are mostly affected from pneumonia and old people too. Because of increase in temperature newer vector-borne diseases are arising… one of them is dengue.

Did you find any correlations?

Yes I did. I found that pneumonia and tuberculosis are generally found in winters. Vector-borne diseases are prevalent in monsoon and post-monsoon (July-October).

Does it has anything to do with climate change, are the number of cases increasing?

Yes, in the year 2011 the number of patients was very high for all these diseases.

But maybe this is not related to climate change…

No. These incidents are definitely affected by climate. But it is just one of the factors. Other factors are socio-economic conditions, etc. So far, we don’t have a statistical model that can factor it in.

How do you study the socio-economic aspect?

We can’t. There is no control sample for the statistics to evaluate it. I am keeping an error percentage of 5 in my study to buffer against uncontrollable factors like this. This allows me to ignore the socio-economic conditions of the patients.

Why ignore it?

Because it is very hard to incorporate.Data from from the hospital does not tell us about what kind of socio-economic background the patients come from, as the hospital doesn’t keep record of these. It is a lack of availability. We are planning to have a survey.

What correlation do you use?

Pearson Correlation.

Where are you in your project right now?

I have collected data from every department now. I am going to take data from every division of the hospital, like the lungs section, diarrhoea section & TB section. Right now I have a chunk of data.

What do you do when you have the data?

I am going to find relationships in the datasets by analysing them. This will generate a generalised result. I am going to add my limitations in the results too as Sunderlal Hospital doesn’t have all the records of past years. We can only get data from last decade but not before that. Another problem is that they don’t provide us with all the data and we have to fight for it. We have to go through a long procedure. Secondly, large numbers of people coming to the OPD daily are not recorded; we are limited to data from the admitted patients. So to reduce this limit I am preparing questionnaire and will do a survey but that will take time.

What is your sample size?

I need a large number of sample say, 300-400 yearly, only then I can go for a relation otherwise I can’t, it won’t be significant. More data, the better.

Are there other scientists doing similar research?

Literature on this topic is mostly from foreign countries. And the people we know who are working in the field are Adrin Tomkansean in Italy, H.C. Dheeman, who is working in National Vector-Borne Disease Control Programme and Shobhana Bhattacharya. They face the same problem, that is lack of data. This is a major problem and collection of data is hectic.

How does it feel working as a female researcher in this country?

It’s very good. India supports women doing PhD, they are praised. At work I don’t feel if I’m a woman or a man. Here I’m just a research scholar.

My family praises me and they don’t pressurise me to get married. I am 28 now and I have zero pressure. Similar is the situation with most of the research scholars in this institute…so it’s very nice.

It feels so good to have worked so hard to reach this point. You go for seminars and workshops, you are publishing papers at national and international journals… it shows you have been working really hard.

What motivates you?

If you come to this field you explore many things. Some of the things I began to get very passionate for. I am in love with it.

Would you like to share any experiences, positive or negative of being a woman scientist?

Being a woman is very good over here; it is appreciated. Teachers generally want to take female candidates as they are hardworking and stick to rules.

It is always been perfect. The atmosphere in PhD is very good as far as this institute is concerned.

So do you think we can survive climate change?

We can…we will…

Any message for whoever is reading this?

I want all readers to appreciate every women working in this field as it is challenging for them. I am not facing any problem, but many do.

And a word of caution: The changing climate is giving rise to many diseases. Climate change is favorable for viruses and new diseases are coming like the Zika virus. We have to do and support research on climate change.