Background: A primary school musical ("The Mould that Changed the World") was developed as a unique public engagement strategy to combat antimicrobial resistance (AMR) by engaging children in the story of the discovery of antibiotics, the risks of drug-resistant infections and the importance of prudent antibiotic use.
Methods: The musical intervention was implemented in two UK primary schools by music specialists through a series of workshops, associated learning resources and performances to relatives. Participating children (n = 182), aged 9 to 11 years, were given an online questionnaire in the classroom before rehearsals began and at two weeks post-performance with a six-month evaluation in one school. The impact of the musical was analysed using generalised linear models to control for confounding factors. For the qualitative evaluation, fifteen participating children were selected randomly from each school to take part in semi-structured focus groups (n = 5 per group) before rehearsals began and two weeks post-performance.
Findings: Knowledge gain was demonstrated with children being more likely to answer questions on key messages of the musical correctly at two weeks post- performance (response rate 88%, n = 161) compared with the pre-rehearsal questionnaire (response rate 99%, n = 180) (bacteria can become resistant to antibiotics OR 4.63, C.I. 2.46-9.31 p<0.0001, antibiotic resistant infections can be life threatening OR 3.26 C.I. 1.75-6.32 p = 0.0001, prudent use of antibiotics will slow the rise of antibiotic resistant infections OR 2.16, C.I. 1.39-3.38, p = 0.0006). Long term knowledge gain was demonstrated by a consistent level of correct answers on key messages between two weeks (response rate 95%, n = 89) and 6 months post musical (response rate 71%, n = 67). Following the musical children participating in the focus groups (n = 30) articulated a greater understanding of AMR and the risks of antibiotic overuse. They discussed motivation to minimise personal antibiotic use and influence attitudes to antibiotics in their family and friends.
Interpretation: This study demonstrates that musical theatre can improve both short and long-term knowledge. It demonstrates a hitherto infrequently reported change in attitude and motivation to change behaviour in children at an influential age for health beliefs. This unique public health tool has the potential for high impact particularly if rolled out within national education programmes for primary school aged children.