Friday, October 17, 2014

Tackling Guatemala’s Parasite Problem

“PID gives the poorest of the poor hope, above all, and I feel lucky to have observed it in action.”

Julie (right) and Rachel in the lab.
Julie Merriam went on her PID first trip at age 12. “The memory of seeing such malnourished kids, who were only a few years younger than me, still sticks with me,” she reflects. Over the next decade, Julie took two more trips to Haiti and two to Guatemala. These trips, she says, are what inspired her to become a doctor.

“During my sophomore year of college [as a pre-med student at Yale], I decided that I wanted to go abroad over the summer.” Having fallen in love with Guatemala during her two trips at ages 15 and 16, “I couldn’t think of anything better than to go back.” Julie teamed up with fellow PID pre-med intern, Rachel Cooper, and began working on a parasite project in Guatemala.

Food- and water-borne parasites are particularly common in Guatemala’s rural communities. Lack of knowledge and limited access to clean water contribute to the spread of infection, which leads to intestinal trouble and malnutrition, similar to what Julie witnessed on her first trip. 
Julie and Rachel spent the summer of 2012 screening kids in the village schools for parasites, organizing well checks and treatments, and teaching sanitation classes for kids and families. “It was an incredible experience,” Julie says. “We both returned the following summer to do a formal parasite study with PID and our respective universities.”

Julie collecting a fecal sample for her study,
They probed deeper this time, examining the efficacy of Albendazole (a common deworming drug used around the world) and gathering data on the demographic variables that contribute to infection. As part of this research, Julie and Rachel asked local families where they got water for everyday chores such as bathing, cooking and drinking. Many answered, “The river.” When asked where they went to the bathroom, many answered the same. “Hearing people answer, ‘The river’ for those questions was disheartening,” says Julie. “This is why the water filters that PID has installed are so important.”

Also important is hygiene education. “PID’s mission is to help people help themselves. I hope that by increasing awareness about parasites and how they are transmitted, people will be more conscious about how important hygiene and handwashing are.”

Now a freshly minted Yale graduate (May 2014), Julie is back in Guatemala again--this time with a 10-month Yale fellowship. She is expanding her parasite project to two new schools and will begin to map the prevalence of infection in kids younger than school-age.

When she returns to the U.S. next year, Julie will begin applying to medical school with the hope of realizing the dream that began during her early PID trips. “The doctors I have met on teams have all inspired me with the love and care that they give to each patient. Their mentorship has been invaluable. I hope to someday be able to contribute as they have.”

Be part of the solution: Learn how you can contribute to PID’s medical efforts in Guatemala.

Gustavo, a boy in the village, learning how to use the microscope and identify the parasites.

No comments:

Post a Comment