Researchers at the Queensland Institute of Medical Research, the University of Queensland and Hunan Institute of Parasitic Diseases have reported huge success with a cartoon DVD promoting hygiene across rural China.
“The Magic Glasses” movie has been shown in schools in Hunan province, showing children how to avoid parasitic worm infection, a major issue in rural communities.
Professor Don McManus and PhD student Franziska Bieri, from QIMR’s Molecular Parasitology Laboratory, Dr Darren Gray and Prof Gail Williams from UQ’s School of Population Health and Dr Li Yuesheng from Hunan Institute of Parasitic Diseases showed that infection rates halved when the 10 minute cartoon was played in schools.
“Sometimes it just takes a simple change in behaviour and attitudes to make a drastic difference in the spread of disease,” Professor McManus said.
“In this case, we’ve managed to make a real difference with a fun cartoon in Mandarin which explains the importance of hand washing, wearing shoes, covering food and using lavatories.”
Intestinal worms such as roundworm, whipworm, and hookworm are a major issue in rural Chinese communities and can lead to malnutrition and stunted growth and cognitive development in children. Worldwide, 2 billion people are infected with parasitic worms.
In the cartoon DVD, when a small child puts on “magic glasses” they can suddenly see worm eggs and larvae in bright colours.
“The research was a major part of my PhD and included a cluster-randomized intervention trial where about 1700 children aged 9-10 were followed during one school year, and we screened the cartoon in some schools but not others,” Ms Bieri said.
“We assessed the children’s knowledge of infection before and after viewing the DVD and compared the effectiveness of the cartoon, against traditional posters.
“We found that tailoring the message to the children made an enormous difference to disease rates. There is an accessible cure for these worms, but the problem is reinfection because of poor hygiene,” Ms Bieri said.
The team has just secured 1.5 million Swiss Francs from the UBS Optimus Foundation to expand the educational program into other regions of China. They’ll work also with the Research Institute of Tropical Medicine in Manila, to make a similar DVD for schoolchildren in The Philippines.
“Worm infections are also a considerable public health problem in Australia’s indigenous communities and this cartoon has enormous potential to make a difference at home,” Professor McManus said.
This research has been published in the current issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.
This research is funded the UBS Optimus Foundation, Switzerland and by Australia’s NHMRC.