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close this bookTeaching Conservation in Developing Nations (Peace Corps)
close this folderChapter 3: Conservation education in a health center
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View the documentSource material - Chapter 3

Health

A health center should also be concerned with the personal hygiene of its community members. It is hard to teach that there is danger from something which cannot be seen with one's own eyes. However, many of the health problems which affect people are invisible, either because the destructive organisms in the environment are too small to see without a microscope, or because the problems develop inside the body.

The health center should develop an education program which teaches the relationship of cleanliness to health. The washing of hands with soap and water before handling food; bathing to keep the body free from harmful bacteria; wearing sandals or shoes to prevent penetration of parasites through the soles of the feet; keeping the home swept and aired to discourage insect or bacteria breeding places; keeping farm animals out of the home, should all be part of a program to up-grade the health of the community.

An effective method of demonstrating insect or parasitic-carried health problems might be to illustrate the cycle on a flannelgraph or flipchart. Two suggestions follow:

Hookworm

The hookworm is one of a number of nematodes, which is found in tropical and subtropical climates, and which lives as a bloodsucking parasite in the intestines of man.

(1) the larvae of the hookworm live in moist soil which is contaminated by human feces. (2) They penetrate exposed skin, usually the soles of bare feet, and are carried by the blood stream (3) to the lungs, where they cause coughing, (4) are raised into the mouth with bloody mucous and are then swallowed (They can also be swallowed in polluted water.) (5) they then travel to the intestine where they attach themselves with "hooks" and feed on the body's blood supply. (6) A female hookworm can discharge 30,000 eggs a day into the human feces, (7) which will then further contaminate the soil and more people.

As a result of the loss of blood to an infestation of hookworm, a person will suffer anemia, abdominal pain, diarrhea and weakness which will make him/her susceptible to other diseases.

In explaining this cycle of the hookworm, you can show that if a latrine is used, the soil will not be contaminated with hookworm eggs; if shoes or sandals are worn, the larvae cannot enter the soles of the foot; if water is boiled, live hookworm larvae will not be swallowed. If a person has bloody mucous, he should go to the health center to be treated with drugs which will kill the hookworms. Each of these actions will break the hookworm's life cycle, and will help to destroy it.


A Situation

Schistosomiasis Cycle


Figure 3 (NOTE: NOT TO SCALE)

Schistosomiasis

This is a parasitic disease caused by blood flukes, and is found in Asia, Africa, the West Indies, South America, and some Pacific islands.

(1) the eggs of the blood fluke are found in water, deposited there from urine and feces of infested humans. (2) The eggs hatch and penetrate the feet of snails where (3) they develop into a new form and are discharged into the water. (4) The larvae are then free-swimming until they come into contact with persons who work in, who bathe in, swim in, or otherwise come into contact with the infested water. (The larvae can also be swallowed in polluted water). (5) The larvae penetrate the person's skin and are carried through the blood stream to the bowel, bladder, liver, genitals, lungs, spinal chord and other tissues where they attach themselves. (6) The larvae develop into mature flukes which rob these tissues of the blood they need. (7) Eggs of the mature fluke are passed out in the feces and urine.

The disease results in general weakening and eventual death.

In explaining this cycle of the blood fluke, you can show that if a latrine is used, the water will not become contaminated with blood fluke eggs. If people do not bathe in infested waters, or do not do irrigation work without rubber boots, or do not drink untreated water, the fluke larvae will not enter their bodies. Each of these actions will break the blood fluke's life cycle, and will help to destroy it.

If the hookworm or the blood fluke are not health problems in your area, then perhaps you can identify another disease which is carried in a similar fashion, and whose cycle could be broken by improving the environmental conditions of the human population of your area.

Rodents not only destroy food crops and stored grain, they also carry fleas which in turn carry diseases. Certain rat fleas carry typhus and bubonic plague, and fleas also transmit several species of tapeworm. There are chemical methods to control such rodents as rats and mice. You can also alter their environment, which will discourage or reduce their population. Keep your community free from trash, litter and debris where rodents can hide and nest. Make your grain storage rodent-proof as illustrated in the Peace Corps manual, Small Farm Grain Storage. Most especially, encourage the protection of the predators of rats and mice. These may be birds such as hawks and owls, or they may be any of a large number of harmless snakes. You should learn to identify which snakes are beneficial and not harmful to people. The health center might display pictures of those birds and snakes which help eliminate rodents, or you might be able to keep a harmless, helpful snake as an education aid (see Appendix F. Live Animals). Encourage people to see the snake as a friend by explaining what he eats, by showing with pictures how he is different from harmful snakes, and by generally developing an atmosphere of trust toward the animal.

The health center's decision to develop or support a program to educate the community in some aspect of environmental health, should be based on what the specific problems of your area are. Perhaps instead of disease or nutrition, it is the mental health of the community which is suffering from the stress of a crowded and competitive urban environment. Perhaps air pollution is severe enough to cause lung or skin damage, and needs to be explained. The community should be alerted to those aspects of its environment which can cause harm to its members, and should be shown how to improve their health by making beneficial changes in the environment.