By Andrew Handel, Upstate Medical University (Class of 2014)
A trip to Ecuador this past June gave me the opportunity to explore my interests in pediatrics, infectious diseases research and international health.
Under the guidance of Upstate’s Center for Global Health and Translational Science and Dr. Anna Stewart, I spent three weeks studying medical Spanish and investigating dengue fever. Also known as “breakbone” fever because of the aches and pains it causes, dengue fever is a potentially fatal mosquito-borne virus that is spreading exponentially throughout South America as well as other parts of the world.
I was incredibly fortunate to be awarded SUNY Upstate’s Susan B. Stearns, PhD Scholarship for International Travel, a grant provided to students interested in studying abroad. The trip was also supported by the Infectious Disease Society of America’s Medical Scholars Program, which funds international health experiences to medical students.
The first leg of the trip began in Cuenca, Ecuador, where I took medical Spanish classes through the Center for InterAmerican Studies (CEDEI). The fantastic staff at CEDEI developed a unique program for me, consisting of one-on-one tutoring, local cultural activities, daily visits to regional healthcare centers, and living with a local host family.
Through this immersion into Ecuadorian culture I improved my Spanish language abilities. During my flight from New York to Ecuador I struggled to order dinner in Spanish, but was able to hold conversations with other passengers during the return flight. What a transition!
My days also consisted of visits to local healthcare centers including a public hospital (offering free services to all), a social security hospital (serving those with employer-provided health insurance), an orphanage and a pediatric cancer hospital, among many others.
I spent time with traditional medicine practitioners who gave me two limpiezas (“ritual cleansings”). The limpiezas consist of multiple stages, including spitting cleansing water on my back and rubbing me with an egg that was then cracked open and read as a spiritual X-ray.
The second leg of my trip was to Machala, Ecuador to study dengue fever, where I met with members of Upstate’s Center for Global Health and Translational Science (CGHATS), including my mentor, Dr. Anna Stewart. Upstate has developed a relationship with the local Ministry of Health and the National Service for Controlling Arthropod-Spread Diseases (SNEM), and is recruiting students to participate.
Prior to my trip I developed a survey of dengue fever management that will be administered to local physicians. While in Machala I conducted a pilot study of the survey with the help of the SNEM staff. We visited physicians to learn about their experience with dengue, providing me with a rich background to further explore this devastating disease. Now that the survey has been tested in the field, the CGHATS team will use the survey at upcoming physician trainings for dengue management.