Getting Ready: one GPS and lots of flouride

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My name is Mika Hyden and I am a rising senior Geography major. This Saturday I will be leaving for Nepal to begin my project mapping food accessibility in Kathmandu and surrounding rural areas.

After studying abroad in India last fall, I had the unexpected opportunity to remain in the area and volunteer with a friend from my program and her research group led by Professor Sokal-Gutierrez physician and professor at the UC Berkeley-UCSF Joint Medical Program, in the UC Berkeley School of Public Health. The research focuses on children’s oral hygiene and nutrition around the world, including projects in El Salvador, Ecuador, Vietnam, India and Nepal. Participating in the establishment of a new program in Mumbai, India, “India Smiles”, and the on-going project in Nepal, “Hasilo Nepal”, opened my eyes to the large percentage of children with decayed teeth due to an emerging culture of cheap western junk food. In both India and Nepal, I saw children with decayed teeth bombarded by endless advertisements for Coca-Cola and candy. Despite this urgent epidemic, oral health is not an immediate concern of many public health officials around the world.

Professor Sokal-Gutierrez’s research is conducted through oral health camps at various schools and health centers in each of the project areas. Mothers and children are invited to participate in the camps, which include: lessons on effective tooth brushing, free toothbrushes and toothpaste, fluoride treatments every 6 months, a dental exam, nutrition education and a record of each child’s height and weight (for further analysis regarding the relationship between oral hygiene and malnutrition). While she and a team of students return to each project site every year, local community health workers return every 6 months to re-apply fluoride and follow-up on education. I will be staying with and accompanying the Nepali community health workers on their 6 month visit to camp sites in Kathmandu and the rural hill region of Sindhupalchok.

As a Geography major, studying GIS (Geographic Information Systems), I was surprised and fascinated by the many shops selling candy and soda in Nepal, especially rural villages. They seemed disproportionate to the number of shops selling traditional foods. I plan to visit the many food shops in each project area and using a GPS (Global Positioning System), obtain their coordinates. Using ArcGIS software on the Macalester computers, I will create a map of the distribution of junk and traditional food stores when I return to campus in August. Coupled with the oral hygiene and nutrition data collected by Professor Sokal-Gutierrez and her team of students, we hope these maps will provide a visual display of the urgency of accessibility and inaccessibility to certain types of food and the resulting tooth decay and malnutrition. This information may be presented to various government and non-governmental organizations in the future, and will hopefully raise awareness and promote action against these epidemics.

I am extremely excited to return to Nepal and spend time with the community health workers, who’s care and dedication to their villages inspired me to pursue this project.

I’ll be posting from Nepal soon! -Mika

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