Description: The overarching purpose of the Dragonflies Project is to reduce parasitic disease in developing countries through health behavior change. More people die today worldwide from a lack of clean water, inadequate sanitation, and the emerging zoonosis caused by water-borne parasites than any other cause (WHO, 2013). In rural Vietnam, 85% of women and children have parasitic diseases and have the highest rate of child malnutrition in Asia (Nguyen et al, 2005).The WHO Development Goals for 2020 call for reduction of parasitic diseases recommending a) new research testing diarrhea prevention strategies, b) building capacity to implement the interventions, c) training health care workers at the community level, and d) promoting national policies and government investment in safe water.There are three components to the Dragonflies Project, each with a distinct and linked purpose that address the first three WHO recommendations.The project was developed by Suni Petersen, Ph.D.
Scientific Purpose:Almost all empirically validated health behavior change models were developed in western countries and are based in social-cognition manifested in three major constructs: motivational, behavioral enactment, and multi-stages (Baban & Cracium, 2007). Imposing these models on other cultures have had little success (Magnussen, Ehiri, Ejera, & Jolly, 2004; Orleans, Gruman, Ulmer, Emont, & Hollendoner, 1999). Current models focus on internal, individualistic factors, and are based on a cost-benefits analysis – a linear process inappropriate for cultures that think in non-linear ways. Adaptations of interventions become a smorgasbord of a-theoretical constructs that have proliferated (Bandura, 1992) and still do not address the resource-deficit environments, the non-linear thinking, nor the collectivist ideology found in many developing countries. Behavior change models must include both underlying cultural constructs and be consistent with the culture, context, and the political and economic conditions.Thus, the Dragonflies Project is designed to use a bottom-up approach to build a health behavior change model for developing countries, such as Viet Nam.
Educational Purpose:The Dragonflies Project is an elective course preceded by a semester of voluntary preparation for 18 days in rural remote Viet Nam. Students read the literature on health interventions in the developing world, mostly UNICEF, World Bank, and United Nations initiatives. They pair up to develop a workshop that they present to children from pre-school to fifth grades using an interpreter. They learn scientific research through their involvement in decisions on design, measures, data collection, and analysis. Students co-author papers and present at National conferences with the researcher. This is not an immersion experience but involves working among the people much as Doctors without Borders work. The greatest learning for students, however, is about themselves.Thus, the course gives students real world experience in applied research in an international setting.
Community Service Purpose:It is inherently unethical to conduct research with impoverished people without offering a benefit to them. The Dragonflies Project is building an infrastructure of trained health advocates (indigenous women) and leaders to serve as trainers and advisors for basic household health conditions and practices.The trainees spend a week learning ways to reduce parasites through sanitation, water treatment, human-animal transmission, preventing parasites in babies and pregnant women, and psychological factors that promote health behavior change. These factors are those we are learning from our own science. The trained women are paid by the project to visit 12 families in their hamlets assess household conditions and practices that lead to parasitic disease and train the women in this behavior change. The village leaders are paid to hold meetings with the male head of households to promote the expenditure on health prevention necessary to reduce parasitic disease.Thus, the Dragonflies Project is building infrastructure.
The History of the Dragonflies Project
In 2010, a qualitative study was conducted in which 67 farmers were interviewed to determine the needs and perspectives of the community through a connection with an NGO in Hue, Viet Nam.The first of five trips was planned for Phong Binh.Since 2010, over 36 Health Advocates and 19 village leaders have been trained; 435 families in two villages have been visited by the health advocates; 80 young mothers were trained in child nutrition, parasite reduction and child development; and 23 students have traveled to Viet Nam and taught over 1250 school children on the reduction. of parasitic disease through personal and dental hygiene.Data has been collected on all these efforts, except the school children. To date, the data are demonstrating improved family health, increased sanitation, improved home conditions, increased animal-human distance, and modest improvement in water treatment.
Fundingbegan with the first two years supported by a small family foundation, Freda B. Runyan Foundation.The subsequent years were supported by fund-raising efforts of the researcher.Donations only go to the project itself.
Future of the Dragonflies Project
The Project has been invited to five other countries.The January 2015 trip is returning to finish work in the second village and expanding to the Hill Tribes in Central Viet Nam, the Co Tu, one of the minority tribes. In addition, this coming trip we have permission to conduct a workshop and study on breast feeding.