Saturday, 12 October 2013

Public health initiative targets international students with preventable diseases

Katherine Gibney 125A new public health campaign is aiming to lower rates of tuberculosis (TB) and travel-associated infections among international students.

Cases of tuberculosis are 10 times higher amongst international students than the rest of the Australian population. This group is also overrepresented in cases of travel-associated infection, including enteric fever, typhoid, hepatitis A, and malaria. Illnesses are often contracted when students visit their home countries during holidays, and can often remain undetected, especially in the case of TB.

The initiative involved a partnership between Monash University, The Victorian Department of Health, and the  Royal Melbourne Hospital, including  Dr Katherine Gibney, Dr Amanda Brass, and A/Prof Karin Leder from the Infectious Diseases Epidemiology Unit.

It aimed to educate international students about the risks of contracting these diseases, and the necessity of appropriate health care.

Educational materials highlighted the symptoms of diseases like TB, and emphasised that treatment was effective and free in Australia.

The program also found that awareness of these illnesses were low amongst students, educators and health providers surrounding educational institutions.

Interviews with student support staff revealed that social and electronic media, along with printed pamphlets and postcards, would be the best way of ensuring the education materials reached students.

The study suggested widely implementing their current program, as well as expanding health initiatives that specifically target international students to include mental and sexual health campaigns.

The number of international students coming to Australia has more than doubled in the last decade, contributing to the service sector making up 68% of the GDP. There were over 162, 000 enrolments from 140 countries in 2011, with almost half coming from either China or India.

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