Ana Sanchez, Ph.D., (left) works with a team from VCU in Honduras this summer

Global health team serves in Honduras

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After serving on an eight-day trip to provide health care to residents in Yoro, Honduras — some of whom were traveling 12 hours round trip through the mountains to receive care — Virginia Commonwealth University medical student Daniel Olson now feels humbled when he makes his own doctor appointments in the United States.

“When I go to the doctor, it's enormously easy compared to the commitment required from residents of isolated and impoverished communities like the ones we served,” Olson said. “I expect the best quality of care when I see a doctor, yet it’s easy to look at these patients and succumb to a tendency to think ‘They have so little, they will probably be grateful for what they get.’ But this is wrong. The individuals from communities like those have just as much of a right to expect the highest quality of care, just like we do.”

Olson was part of a team from the VCU’s Global Health and Health Disparities Program that traveled to Honduras in June to offer medical care. While there, the team provided a number of services, including vision tests and treatment for various infections, as well as health care education.

Ana Sanchez, Ph.D., a Honduras native and assistant professor at Brock University, was part of the trip, and recently gave a presentation about it at VCU’s Sanger Hall. In addition to Sanchez and Olson, 16 students and residents from various disciplines, including internal medicine, pharmacy and pediatrics, participated. Much of Sanchez’ presentation focused on their research and the treatment of soil-transmitted helminths, more commonly known as intestinal parasites.

“Soil sustains the survival of parasites. Poverty determinates are just one factor,” she said. “Children are more susceptible to parasites because they have not built up partial immunity. Constant exposure leads to chronic infections.”

Ana Sanchez, Ph.D., (left) works with a team from VCU in Honduras this summer
Ana Sanchez, Ph.D., (left) works with a team from VCU in Honduras this summer

Parasites can cause intestinal bleeding, anemia, loss of appetite, diarrhea and dysentery. Because Honduras’ major environmental problems are soil erosion and loss of soil fertility, residents, particularly children, are more inclined to infection. A major thrust of the trip was to find creative ways to prevent helminth and enteric infections that result from unclean water. To that end, the medical team distributed 90 water filters in the communities they served.

The team also facilitated approximately 80 pap smears and dental extractions for 70 patients. The GH2DP has made 15 similar trips over the past 10 years that focus on public health projects and providing direct medical care.

Michael Stevens, M.D., is director of the Travel and Tropical Medicine Clinic and director of the Global Health Pathway in the Internal Medicine Residency Program at VCU. He was part of the June trip.

“In our efforts, we work closely with community partners and the Ministry of Health,” he said. “Our main goal with all our outreach is to provide the best preventive care we can and to educate the population about illnesses to which they are susceptible.”

In six days of clinic, the team saw more than 700 patients. In addition to the VCU group, medical officials from National Autonomous University of Honduras in Tegucigalpa and Brock University helped provide care.

The trip had an educational mission, as well. In collaboration with numerous nonprofit organizations, GH2DP students learned how to provide compassionate, collaborative and comprehensive care to underserved communities in the U.S. and abroad. The program was created to improve the health of impoverished people living in resource-limited settings and to provide students and residents with global health education and experiences.

This was an excellent opportunity to learn about health care and public health in a global setting.

Olson was the group’s student team leader.

“This was an excellent opportunity to learn about health care and public health in a global setting,” he said. “Also, it was a great way to make connections to and learn directly from experienced physicians who are willing and excited to teach.”

Plans are already underway for next year’s trip, organizers said, including processes to rid sufferers from worms, or deworm, in significant numbers.

“The research performed during this trip will be used as the baseline data for determining intestinal worm infections in the region. Based on these data and data from our 2014 trip, we have changed our deworming protocol,” Stevens said. “We hope that when the study is repeated in June 2016 we will have seen a major reduction in intestinal helminths in the region.”


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