Textiles make Scabies child’s play

Brighton primary school children have recycled fabric remnants from University of Brighton textile students to create bean bags in the shape of mites to fight the stigma surrounding scabies, an increasingly common skin disease.

The project, organised by Brighton and Sussex Medical School (BSMS), run by the universities of Brighton and Sussex, and the University of Brighton’s School of Art, was designed to educate primary school children and to change their understanding of scabies.

Dr Vicki Haffenden, Senior Lecturer in the School of Art, said: “Textiles are tactile and sit next to the skin, making them a perfect medium with which to explore skin conditions.

“Scabies is a stigmatising skin infestation caused by a mite. It is often wrongly associated with poor hygiene, so we decided to use creative, textile-based methods to raise awareness of scabies in primary school children. We hope that the children will challenge any incorrect beliefs held by their families and ultimately reduce the stigma.”

Stefania Lanza, Research Coordinator at BSMS, has a background in fashion design and is one of the leaders on the project: She said: “Scabies is an age-old but now increasingly common skin condition, particularly within care homes for the elderly, where close contact between residents and staff is the norm.

“Outbreaks of scabies are common in this setting and can spread easily, and may go unnoticed until symptoms develop usually after about four weeks.

“Diagnosis is problematic in elderly people as it can be difficult to spot and can be misdiagnosed as a pre-existing dry skin condition. This is especially difficult where residents are suffering from dementia, making them unable to communicate their discomfort.”

The project was supported by children’s author and scriptwriter Julie Middleton and animator Holly Morton, a recent University of Brighton graduate. A scabies game was also designed using the bean bags created from the children’s drawings of the mites.

The project was considered a success: Prior to the workshops, eight out of 10 children had not heard of scabies but after taking part, nine out of 10 reported that they enjoyed learning about scabies and eight out of 10 had told family members about scabies. The project may now be rolled out at other schools.

Sophie Clifford, a teacher at one of the schools taking part, Coldean Primary in Brighton, said: “The project was an amazing opportunity for the children to develop an understanding of something that they wouldn’t get the chance to learn about normally in school. The creativity of the project combined with the project’s aim to raise awareness of scabies ensured that the children thoroughly enjoyed all aspects of it.”

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