205332 Importance of water in preventing blindness in indigenous populations: A pilot study exploring perceptions and knowledge of trachoma and facial hygiene of families in Chiapas, Mexico

Wednesday, November 11, 2009: 11:30 AM

Meredith M. Rossi, BS, MPH Candidate , Mailman School of Public Health, Department of Epidemiology, Columbia University, New York, NY
Trachoma is a little known but serious disease that persists as the leading cause of preventable blindness in the world. Access to modern sanitation and adequate sources of water is crucial to preventing the spread of trachoma, particularly among indigenous communities that may lack the resources to implement complex surgical and antibiotic treatment programs. Facial hygiene has the potential to be among the most cost effective methods for reducing the risk of trachoma and preventing the progression of irreversible blindness in the population. A key element of proper facial hygiene is potable water, the lack of which tends to dominate resource-poor areas where trachoma thrives. Using structured interviews and through environmental assessment and day-long, in-depth observation, information was gathered concerning water availability and utilization, perceptions of facial hygiene and the role of water in hygienic practices, and knowledge and opinions of trachoma among indigenous families. In these communities, actual observed behaviors conflicted with interview findings. This study has implications for the success of future preventive efforts of the Trachoma Program in Chiapas, as well as those in similar regions. It is critical for public health nurses to understand the relationship dynamics of these indigenous families and communities, in order to apply this knowledge in the field to link cultural beliefs with disease prevention, and to influence local health policy initiatives to address the importance of clean water in these settings. Comprehensive observational studies should be conducted to expand knowledge of the basic cultural beliefs and hygiene routines of this population.

Learning Objectives:
Discuss the importance of water in the prevention and control of trachoma. Analyze at least two key discrepancies between the observed behaviors and the interview responses of the families. Discuss the potential social justice implications of this study for future program and policy initiatives within indigenous communities. Describe at least one way in which knowledge of family and community relationship dynamics can assist public health nurses and other community health workers to prevent disease and promote health.

Keywords: Water, Disease Prevention

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: EDUCATION MPH candidate (Epidemiology), degree expected May 2010 Graduate coursework in field epidemiology, surveillance, and infectious disease epidemiology BS in International Health EXPERIENCE Hepatitis surveillance at the NYC DOHMH (6 months, NY) STI/HIV contact investigations at the Rockland Co. DOH (2 years, NY) Structured internships with WHO/PAHO (DC), Trachoma Program of Chiapas (MX), Mary's Center for Maternal & Child Health (DC) (4 months)
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.