ST. LOUIS —- Bosnia’s national news magazine, Slobodna Bosna, has selected a researcher in Saint Louis University’s School of Public Health as one of the 50 most successful Bosnian immigrants in the world.
The magazine, which is similar to Time, Newsweek or U.S. News and World Report, chose Ajlina Karamehic, Ph.D., in part for her work on a unique St. Louis campaign to educate Bosnian women about breast cancer. Other honorees in the magazine included a professional soccer player in Germany, a Bosnian filmmaker who won an Oscar for best foreign film, a scientist in Illinois and a professional model in Turkey.
The daughter of a Bosnian engineer and a physician based in Dubai, Karamehic moved to the United States in 1995 to attend the University of Kentucky. She graduated with her Ph.D. in health communication in 2003. Karamehic joined SLU in 2004 as a research fellow in the Health Communication Research Laboratory within the School of Public Health. In addition to previous work on drug prevention and health promotion campaigns targeting adolescents and minority populations, Karamehic’s expertise was tapped to design a breast cancer education kiosk specifically for Bosnian women in the St. Louis area.
“In Bosnia, cancer is equated with death,” Karamehic said. “Breast cancer is the number one cancer found among Bosnian women but not many people openly discuss it. Not many people openly discuss cancer in general. We had to overcome many cultural barriers to find a creative way of getting information into their hands.”
Karamehic facilitated extensive focus group sessions with local Bosnian women to develop content for the Bosnian Breast Cancer Educational Kiosk. Funded by the St. Louis chapter of the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, the kiosk contains a touch-screen computer on which women complete a brief questionnaire about breast cancer and mammography. Based on a woman’s response, the computer selects from a library of messages and a printer inside the kiosk produces a full-color magazine that addresses her personal issues. The title of the magazine is Bosanska Žena (Bosnian Woman), a name suggested by the Bosnian women who took part in the focus groups.
“Much of what we try to do in our tailored magazine is dispel myths,” said Karamehic, who was also featured in Dijaspora Bosnjacka, a leading local Bosnian newspaper. “The computer may ask, for example, if the woman believes a mammogram can cause breast cancer, which many Bosnian women said they believed to be true. If a women answers yes, the computer will print out a magazine that contains an article explaining how mammograms work, their importance in detecting breast cancer early and how they cannot cause breast cancer.”
The magazine also provides women with a list of mammography centers where Bosnian translators or Bosnian health care professionals are on staff. The kiosk is placed in locations that serve Bosnian clientele almost exclusively and where waiting time is inherent, such as beauty salons, restaurants or grocery stores. The kiosk is moved every three weeks or so to maximize exposure.
“Our initial feedback has been quite positive,” Karamehic said. “Since we introduced the kiosk into the community about four months ago, we’ve had women thanking us for our work as well as calling and asking for information about other health issues, such as asthma. We’ve even had businesses request the kiosk be put in their locations. It certainly demonstrates need.”
The kiosk is believed to be the first such public health initiative aimed at Bosnian immigrants in the United States.
“Much of the emphasis in terms of health and Bosnians has been on post-traumatic stress,” Karamehic said. “And, understandably, Bosnian immigrants have been focused on other things: getting homes, educating their children and finding work. Preventive health care is not high on their agenda but it’s our responsibility to find ways of showing its importance.”
“Dr. Karamehic has been an important addition to our research team at SLU and she is a major resource for St. Louis’ Bosnian community,” said Matthew W. Kreuter, Ph.D., M.P.H., founder and director of the Health Communication Research Laboratory and principal researcher on the Bosnian Breast Cancer Educational Kiosk project
“Increasing the reach and relevance of cancer information to diverse populations is critical in reducing death and suffering from cancer. Her innovative approach and partnership with the Bosnian community shows how this can be done.”