“You have to make a habit of applying sunscreen. Like brushing your teeth. Says the Dutch dermatologist Karen van Poppelen, promoter of a campaign of skin cancer prevention which has resulted in the distribution of 720 containers of cream in the 120 primary schools in the north of the province of Limburg. It is the first time that something like this has happened at a school level, and the specialist, surprised and delighted at the same time by the success of her initiative, recalls that the disease is the most common in the Netherlands and one in five compatriots will develop it throughout of their life. Most, for not taking good care of the sun’s rays during childhood. With temperatures that have reached 31 degrees these days, other municipalities and companies have installed cream dispensers at strategic points on their own: from music and sports festivals to beaches and swimming pools.

The idea of ​​offering sunscreen to patients, staff and visitors at the VieCuri hospital in Venlo (in the south of the country) came to Van Poppelen last year. He thought that the containers used for the disinfectant gel during the pandemic could be adapted and he got to work. For hygiene reasons, they redid the support posts and replaced the containers with new ones. Later, they filled them with lotion with a protection factor of 30 -considered sufficient for the intensity of the sun in the Netherlands- and the success was immediate. As other colleagues and various firms began to take an interest, he decided to knock on the doors of the schools. The current campaign has been underway for a week in the regional primary, with the collaboration of the municipalities in the area and one of the largest insurance companies in the country. “This is the first time something like this has happened, but the best way to prevent the appearance of skin cancer is be careful in childhood. Until age 18, technically. Then, it is necessary not to lose the habit that we are trying to create with this project”, he explains, in a telephone conversation.

The dispenser sent to the schools – six have been distributed per center – is fixed to the wall inside the building. Children are between 4 and 12 years old, and they use the cream when they go out into the yard to play. The older ones do it on their own. The little ones need some help, and the response has been enthusiastic. Both parents and teachers are equally committed, and the dermatologist would like to reach out to all sports clubs in the future, be they football, golf or tennis. “In turn, they could be installed in secondary schools, the entrance to parks… The important thing is to work with the Town Halls because they are responsible for public spaces. This is a group effort, ”she asserts.

increase in cases

Skin cancer figures have doubled in the last decade in the Netherlands, mainly due to childhood sunburns. “Fifty years ago, people didn’t travel that much on vacation. Then it became fashionable to go to distant and very hot places, like Africa, Thailand or Bali”, indicates the specialist. Among the patients he treats now there are two major age groups: those between 70 and 80 years old, who worked in the fields or outdoors, and those in their 50s or 60s, who went on vacation at an early age without taking care of themselves. of the sun. “Two decades ago, when I was 15 years old, I used a sun protection factor of 10. More or less. Now we know that it is not enough, but the important thing is to remember that the cream should not only be applied on the beach or carried in the suitcase when we go on vacation. It is needed on a terrace, when riding a bike or for a walk. In the open air”, continues Van Poppelen. In her opinion, the effects of climate change on the incidence of the disease “will be able to be seen over time, when the children of today have their birthdays.”

The school campaign derived from his initiative is accompanied by an educational program prepared by the Cancer Control Foundation for teachers and students. “Children learn to enjoy the outdoors protecting themselves from the sun, with games and information adapted for them. It is not a question of avoiding it, but of knowing how to handle it”, says Linda Sumner, its spokesperson. The material includes games and songs for the little ones on how to have a good time being in the sun and seeking shade to avoid burns. As the courses progress, information is included on the necessary care for each type of skin, the effect of the sun and projects to work on this topic. The bill of the videos is professional and the children are the protagonists.

The cream from school dispensers is served by a specialized company. Its purchase “is the responsibility of the VieCuri hospital, the municipalities involved in the program and the insurance company,” says Liset Spreuwenberg, spokesperson for the medical center. In other parts of the country the approach is similar, although the initiative is different. In Hoek van Holland, for example, a busy beach near Rotterdam, they were installed last April at all access points. This May, they have appeared in the province of Zeeland, in the southwest of the Netherlands. There, the average for squamous cell carcinoma of the skin is higher than the rest of the national territory, according to the Cancer Atlas, published last January by the independent institute specialized in oncological and palliative care (IKNL, according to its acronym in Dutch). There are also companies that manufacture this type of container, attached to a pillar, equipped with solar panels and connected to the Internet to calculate consumption. “You have to make putting on sunscreen as common as washing your hands before eating,” concludes Karen van Poppelen.

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