From Hand-Washing Hygiene to Radiation Disasters, UB Researchers Mark National Public Health Week

Release Date: March 28, 2012

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- National Public Health Week, April 2-6, will be observed by the University at Buffalo's School of Public Health and Health Professions with two seminars that are free and open to the public.

On April 2, Randy Carter, PhD, UB professor and associate chair of the Department of Biostatistics in the UB School of Public Health and Health Professions, will discuss "Radiation Disasters: From Hiroshima to Fukushima." On April 5, Pavani Ram, PhD, assistant professor of social and preventive medicine, will discuss "Why don't people wash their hands? Underestimating the challenges to motivating a 'simple behavior.'"

Both seminars will take place at noon in 144 Farber Hall on the UB South Campus. They also will be shown live via Webex. For registration information and to view the seminars online, go to

"We're proud to celebrate National Public Health Week, which aims to raise awareness of issues important to improving the public's health and to encourage individuals and communities to take pro-active measures to help improve their lives," says Lynn Kozlowski, PhD, dean of the UB School of Public Health and Health Professions.

"This is in line with our school's dedication to public health education that focuses on prevention, wellness and evidence-based practice. Our integrated approach is reflected in all of our programs -- biostatistics, community health and health behavior, epidemiology, rehabilitation science and exercise and nutrition sciences, which prepare our students to face today's most critical health challenges."

Carter will review the history of radiation disasters that have had the most significant impacts on public health. Since 1989, he has worked with the Radiation Effects Research Foundation (RERF) in Japan, which conducts population-based studies on the survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bomb detonations.

"At least 37 notable civilian radiation accidents and at least 62 military nuclear accidents have occurred since 1950," says Carter, who notes that because low-dose radiation effects are still unknown, it is difficult to estimate public health effects. He will discuss how the Japanese government's study of health effects in the aftermath of Fukushima will help inform new policies on acceptable doses of radiation.

Ram will discuss a puzzling public health contradiction: while hand-washing with soap has been shown to decrease the prevalence of pneumonia and diarrhea by up to 50 percent in low-income settings, only a minority of mothers of young children wash their hands at times relevant to pathogen transmission.

She asks, "Why do we find it difficult to motivate improved hand-washing behavior among mothers of children so vulnerable to infection and death? What are the motivators and barriers of improved hand-washing behavior in low-resource settings around the world?" Ram will discuss interventions that she and colleagues are designing to improve hand-washing behavior enough to have impact on health outcomes in medically underserved areas around the world.

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