Julian Jamison, PhD
Health outcomes often depend on individual choices and preferences, which in turn are influenced by, among other things, social norms and perceptions of risk. In October, 2005 I spent 10 days in Vanuatu, a small country in the south Pacific, to see how these interactions played out in a little-studied but well-defined environment.
Vanuatu is on the frontier of the world's endemic malarial zones, which are centered in Africa, and it consequently has received much attention as a vital first step toward possibly eradicating the disease. Our UCSF team was there to study bednet usage patterns: we matched these with actual prevalence rates (found by taking blood samples) and with survey responses that measured knowledge about the disease.
The novelty of our study lay in the fact that we also asked about underlying risk attitudes and perceptions, relative social standing, economic variables, and so on. The initial data (over 900 households) is being entered right now, and we expect to have results in early 2006. We hope that this broad-based approach will have much wider applicability, including implications for the major chronic ailments in the developed world.
Although I was primarily there to observe the interviews in progress, the travel aspect was exciting. I am getting close to visiting 50 countries on my list! This trip was an unparalleled opportunity to visit villagers who see foreigners only a handful of times every decade. I had the occasion of temporarily joining their daily lives and even learned a bit of Bislama, the lingua franca of the archipelago. There was no running water or electricity (or roads) within miles of the villages, yet their aid posts were stocked and their schools were lively. And their plates were not just full but tasty assuming you like roast taro washed down with some kava!
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