Cultural Models of Immunization and Infectious Disease Mitigation
The members of some communities, such as Puerto Rico, do not understand the scope and severity of some infectious diseases until they become infected (Pérez-Guerra, Zielinski-Gutierrez, Vargas-Torres, & Clark, 2009). The lack of a basic understanding of illness and infection poses a roadblock to mitigating disease transmission within the community. For Pérez-Guerra et al., the perception of severity and mitigation is important as they investigate the difference in attitudes towards dengue infections because dengue cannot be controlled by vaccine and must be mitigated by community participation in mosquito abatement activities. Other infectious diseases, however, can be controlled by vaccine, but efforts to limit infection are met with ignorance or misconceptions (Lau, Griffiths, Choi, & Tsui, 2010; Leask, Sheikh-Mohammed, MacIntyre, Leask, & Wood, 2006).
Public health officials, in concert with community leaders, should seek to educate affected communities about the infectious diseases they face along with effective mitigation strategies and the importance of vaccination, if available. Coreil (2010) describes the importance of cultural models in “[gaining] a deeper understanding of the cultural context of behavior” (p. 83). If behaviors are not understood, then it will be difficult to redirect them. Reaching out to community leaders has the added effect of allowing the leaders to alter the message just enough so that it might be effectively communicated to the community.
Providing a cultural health model allows for a larger scope of audience while effectively tailoring the message so that most of the target audience will appreciate the nature of the message. Approaching health behaviors from a cultural stand-point also offers the advantage of allowing peer support to propagate messages through out the community. This might be especially true when dealing with a multitude of subcultures where the message might better be disseminated via interpersonal means. Eventually, the message will be received by many individuals who will begin to have discussions with others in the community. For communities where individuals are not likely to speak to each other regarding personal health-related matters, the cultural health model allows a general message to reach each individual.
Coreil, J. (Ed.). (2010). Social and behavioral foundations of public health (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Lau, J. T. F., Griffiths, S., Choi, K. C., & Tsui, H. Y. (2010). Avoidance behaviors and negative psychological responses in the general population in the initial stage of the H1N1 pandemic in Hong Kong. BMC Infectious Diseases, 10(139), 1-13. doi:10.1186/1471-2334-10-139
Leask, J., Sheikh-Mohammed, M., MacIntyre, C. R., Leask, A., & Wood, N. J. (2006). Community perceptions about infectious disease risk posed by new arrivals: A qualitative study. The Medical Journal of Australia, 185(11/12), 591-593. Retrieved from http://www.mja.com.au/public/issues/185_11_041206/lea10999_fm.pdf
Pérez-Guerra, C. L., Zielinski-Gutierrez, E., Vargas-Torres, D., & Clark, G. G. (2009). Community beliefs and practices about dengue in Puerto Rico. Pan American Journal of Public Health, 25(3), 218-226. doi:10.1590/S1020-49892009000300005