Wetenschap - 1 oktober 1998

International Page

International Page

International Page
Health promotion should build on how people think
In spite of extensive promotional efforts made by health organisations including the WHO, 3.3 million children still die every year from diarrhoeal diseases. After nine years' research, Valerie Curtis concludes in her thesis The Dangers of Dirt, that the health messages sent out to educate people on safe hygiene have been misguided
In parts of Africa and Asia, diarrhoea continues to be one of the top three killers of children along with malaria and respiratory diseases. Issues of hygiene seem to be the key to this problem. However, Curtis discovered that although everyone desires cleanliness no matter what culture or poverty level, hygiene is a very complex subject perceived differently by all. Working from a household rather than individual perspective is crucial to effective interventions, one of the reasons that Curtis graduated from the Department of Household Studies. For her research, Curtis went to households in Burkina Faso's second city of Bobo-Dioulasso, asking mothers what they considered to be the origins of their children's diarrhoea. Contact with stools was never mentioned, although many other reasons were named - including stepping on an egg, teething and having sexual relations before a child has been weaned
Hygiene
Curtis began as a water and sanitation engineer, but her search for an understanding of hygiene took her on a long inter-disciplinary path, touching on anthropology, psychology, biology and marketing, among others. Hygiene, she has found, is related to people's innate need for order and cleanliness, which are linked: We need to have everything in its proper place or we're uncomfortable. It's a similar feeling as with culture shock - we feel out of place in a society which is ordered differently from our own. Things that do not fit into societies' rules are often thought of as dirty. Expressions like dirty old man or filthy-minded reflect certain attitudes and unwritten rules in society that may be linked to morality or myths. Even in the West most hygiene practice is not about germ avoidance, but is strongly related to order, aesthetics, disgust and morality. The problem of hygiene is once again becoming urgent in the West, with the rise of resistant microbes and new pathogens. Especially the old, young and immuno-compromised are at risk
In her research, Curtis found that telling mothers that they should wash their hands in order to keep their babies healthy often fell on deaf ears, because they do not view this to be part of the problem. Hand-washing in Bobo-Dioulasso is actually perceived as a solution to only one type of diarrhoea, termed diarrhoea of the whites. A better strategy, according to Curtis would be to have hygiene promotion build on the local perceptions of cleanliness. For example, if people like using soap because it smells nice, then it should be promoted in this way. Starting from asking people themselves should be obvious - education is not magic, a lot of the teaching doesn't work at all, Curtis continues
Also, messages should be positive, simple and few, targeted on the most important hygiene practices. People have been inundated by too many messages - at the most, they should only get two. In this case, clear messages should be to wash hands with soap and water after contact with stools, including after changing a baby's diaper, and to use a pot or latrine to dispose of stools. Since introducing her new methods, 16-18% of the mothers included in her research have started washing their hands with soap after contact with stools. Unicef, which sponsored Curtis' research, is distributing 5,000 copies of the four manuals which Curtis and her team have compiled
Joint initiative between international students throughout Holland
International graduate students from five Dutch schools reached agreement about permanent cooperation last weekend. Common issues, such as legal status as well as problems encountered while studying in the Netherlands can be worked out through this national platform. Over 300 international students, including ten from Wageningen, supported this initiative during a symposium on International Education organised by the Institute of Social Studies (ISS) in the Hague, and held on 26th September
Many topics were discussed, including problems confronting international students, prospects for jobs following graduation, and the value of international education. Unfortunately, people were just warming up by the time the symposium came to an end, and the general consensus was that the discussions need to continue. ISS Dean Hans Opschoor also participated in part of the proceedings. Opschoor, who also heads two Holland-based international education federations (FION and SAIL), was very enthusiastic about the initiative, which came from the students themselves. This is the first time that this kind of communication is taking place among international students in the Netherlands, and Opschoor remarked how timely it was. He plans to take the conclusions of the symposium to discussions with the Dutch government, which is presently debating the future of international education
The five schools involved include the IHS (Institute of Housing and Urban Development Studies) in Rotterdam, the RNTC (Radio Netherlands Training Centre) in Hilversum, the ITC (Institute for Aero-Space Survey and Earth Sciences) in Enschede along with WAU and the ISS. Other institutions were also invited but did not attend, including the IAC (International Agricultural Centre) in Wageningen, though the organisers hope that they will participate in the development of this initiative
SSHW expands international rooms
A solution was found on September 24th to avert the international housing shortage reported two weeks ago. An additional 23 rooms have been set aside for international students. This will solve the problem that the current number of furnished rooms designated to international students would not have met the influx expected on October 1st
Both the Dean of International Students, Tiny Backus, and Jan Harkema, adjunct-director of the student housing corporation SSHW, are pleased to have come up with a timely solution. According to Harkema, the SSHW is completely dependent on when students give their one month's notice that they are leaving. Many international students have been staying longer than they had originally indicated when signing on for a room. Reasons can vary from wanting to stay a while longer to travel, to not completing assignments on time
Incoming international students have been given priority on the overall waiting list for empty rooms as finding alternative temporary housing is easier for Dutch students. The temporary rooms at Asserpark and Hoevestein will still be used until other designated rooms come free for international students. This should not be necessary for long as the peak demand will ease off soon
The SSHW is hoping that the logistical arrangements for the international student and research community coming to Wageningen will become centrally organised when the new joint structure of the WUR (Wageningen University and Research Centre) finally comes into place. At present the SSHW works with the Dean's office and the graduate schools, as well as the DLO research institutes in assigning rooms to incoming international students and researchers

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