News / Health

Simple Questions Can Help Stop Killer Disease

Map of Botswana, Africa
Map of Botswana, Africa

Multimedia

Audio
Joe DeCapua
Diarrheal disease is one of the leading killers of young children in Africa. While more countries are using vaccines to help prevent outbreaks, health officials are often unable to track down the source of outbreaks when they do occur. Now, researchers believe they can change that.


In Botswana’s Chobe District – about 1,500 kilometers north of the capital Gaborone – there are only five doctors for 23,000 people. So when there’s an outbreak of diarrheal disease, doctors and nurses spend most of their time treating the sick, not learning the epidemiology of the outbreak – the who, what, when, where, why and how of the disease.

Kathleen Alexander is an associate professor at Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources -- and has worked in Africa for more than 20 years. She said usually in diarrheal outbreaks health officials have little information.

“Outside of numbers – the number of children that are affected – we generally know very little if anything at all about why they have diarrhea, which agent is responsible. What are the socio-economic circumstances? I mean there have been studies that link certain factors to diarrheal disease broadly, but when you start talking about Namibia, Botswana, many places in Africa, and trying to look at why certain diarrheal outbreaks were thought to have occurred, there won’t be any information on the patients – other than sex, age and outcome. Were they discharged or did they get hospitalized? Did they die?”

But Alexander and her colleagues have discovered that a few simple questions can yield a lot of information – information that can save lives. They developed a short questionnaire for patients at Chobe District’s Kasane Primary Hospital, a 29-bed facility built in 1962.

“Understanding where the exposure to water borne pathogens is occurring, or food, or is it flies. There are so many contributing factors that if you can’t get to more of that patient-related data you won’t really understand where the risk is and then what to do about it,” she said.

If there’s a disease outbreak in the United States, the CDC, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has experienced staff and the best equipment to locate the source and recommend action. Alexander said things are different in remote, rural Botswana.

“There’s this big push to go towards hi-tech tools,” she said, “but at the end of the day they’re not going to work in these types of environment. And that’s the place that we really need to understand. This place where lots of disease is happening, lots of diarrheal disease, in particular, and we still know nothing about it because we’re waiting for more sophisticated studies to happen.”

But if you simply ask patients if they drank water from the river and they say no, then odds are the river water is not the source of the pathogen. If you ask whether they’ve seen many standing pools of dirty water and they say, yes, that can be a vital clue. Do villages use pit latrines or running water? Are only children affected or adults, too? Have there been water shortages? The patients can provide that information and more.

Alexander said, “In places in Africa where we have larger issues with water quality, those infections can be quite significant. So, for example, in 2006 there was a lot of rain in Botswana and in a period of less than three months over 500 children died related to a diarrheal disease. That’s a lot.”

Alexander said using a simple patient survey is an “important starting point”… that “does not require “increased human or economic resources or outside researchers.” She added, “It can give immediate insight into public health threats and disease outbreaks.”

What’s more, Alexander said waiting for complex health studies in remote areas only widens the health gap between developing and developed nations.

You May Like

Conflicts Engulf Christians in Mideast

Research finds an increase in faith-based hostilities, and Christians are facing persecution in a growing number of countries in the region More

Chinese Americans: Don’t Call Us 'Model Minority'

Label points to collective achievement, but some say it triggers resentment, unrealistic expectations More

Iran Bolsters Surveillance of Phones, Internet

Does increased monitoring suggest the government is nervous? More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015i
X
Carol Pearson
August 30, 2014 7:14 PM
A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015

A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video Survivors Commemorate 70th Anniversary of Nazi Liquidation of Polish Ghetto

When the Nazi army moved into the Polish city of Lodz in 1939, it marked the beginning of a long nightmare for the Jewish community that once made up one third of the population. Roughly 200,000 people were forced into the Lodz Ghetto. Less than 7,000 survived. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, some survivors gathered in Chicago on the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto to remember those who suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime.
Video

Video Cost to Raise Child in US Continues to Rise

The cost of raising a child in the United States continues to rise. In its latest annual report, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says middle income families with a child born in 2013 can expect to spend more than $240,000 before that child turns 18. And sending that child to college more than doubles that amount. VOA’s Deborah Block visited with a couple with one child in Alexandria, Virginia, to learn if the report reflects their lifestyle.
Video

Video Chaotic Afghan Vote Recount Threatens Nation’s Future

Afghanistan’s troubled presidential election continues to be rocked by turmoil as an audit of the ballots drags on. The U.N. says the recount will not be completed before September 10. Observers say repeated disputes and delays are threatening the orderly transfer of power and could have dangerous consequences. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.
Video

Video Ukraine Battles Pro-Russia Rebel Assault

After NATO concluded an emergency meeting to discuss the crisis in eastern Ukraine, the country is struggling to contain heavy fighting near the strategic port of Mariupol, on the Azov Sea. Separatist rebels are trying to capture the city, allegedly with Russian military help, and Ukraine's defense forces are digging in. VOA's Daniel Schearf spoke with analysts about what lies ahead for Ukraine.
Video

Video Growing Business Offers Paint with a Twist of Wine

Two New Orleans area women started a small business seven years ago with one thing in mind: to help their neighbors relieve the stress of coping with a hurricane's aftermath. Today their business, which pairs painting and a little bit of wine, has become one of the fastest growing franchises across the U.S. VOA’s June Soh met the entrepreneurs at their newest franchise location in the Washington suburbs.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials To Begin Next Week

The National Institutes of Health says it is launching early stage trials of a vaccine to prevent the Ebola virus, which has infected or killed thousands of people across West Africa. The World Health Organization says Ebola could infect more than 20,000 people across the region by the time the outbreak is over. The epidemic has health experts and governments scrambling to prevent more people from becoming infected. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Asian Bacteria Threatens Florida Orange Trees

Florida's citrus fruit industry is facing a serious threat from a bacteria carried by the Asian insect called psyllid. The widespread infestation again highlights the danger of transferring non-native species to American soil. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Aging Will Reduce Economic Growth Worldwide in Coming Decades

The world is getting older, fast. And as more people retire each year, fewer working-age people will be there to replace them. Bond rating agency Moody’s says that will lead to a decline in household savings; reducing global investments - which in turn, will lead to slower economic growth around the world. But experts say it’s not too late to mitigate the economic impact of the world’s aging populations. Mil Arcega has more.
Video

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

The United States along with European and Mideast allies are considering a broader assault against Islamic State fighters who have spread from Syria into Iraq and risk further destabilizing an already troubled region. But as VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, confronting those militants could end up helping the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Video

Video Made in America Socks Get Toehold in Online Fashion Market

Three young entrepreneurs are hoping to revolutionize the high-end sock industry by introducing all-American creations of their own. And they’re doing most of it the old-fashioned way. VOA’s Julie Taboh recently caught up with them to learn what goes into making their one-of-a-kind socks.
Video

Video Americans, Ex-Pats Send Relief Supplies to West Africa

Health organizations from around the world are sending supplies and specialists to the West African countries that are dealing with the worst Ebola outbreak in history. On a smaller scale, ordinary Americans and African expatriates living in the United States are doing the same. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.

AppleAndroid