Guatemalan Infectious Disease: Blessings In Disguise

Pair of Parasites: antigen test is positive for giardia & cryptosporidium

Hello health fans! Since my last post, it has been quite eventful in Guatemala to say the least. Last Monday, Brytani and I planned on hitting the ground full force to gather as many samples as possible since we were told the medical supplies from Guatemala City were expected to arrive any day. After renting a private lancha and hiring a translator of Ce’chikal (a Mayan dialect), we set off to the clinic in the neighboring community of Tzununa hoping to enlist patients for the study. To our dismay, all we found was a sign on the front of the clinic that said they would be closed all week due to the holiday. However, our translator mentioned there was a Hospital Nacional in Solola that was open and might have potential patients. One lancha connection and two bus rides later, we were explaining our study to the affable Dr. Guillermo Ordoñez, the subdirector of the largest hospital in southwest Guatemala, who graciously granted us access to his hospital’s laboratory for our work.

For the remainder of the week, Brytani and I spent the mornings alongside our new colleagues (Bonier, Edgar, Chico, Antonio, and Rosa) in the lab at the Hospital Nacional, and our afternoons with Dr. Sinkinson in the Mayan Medical Aid clinic. The Hospital Nacional’s diagnostic protocol involves plating specimen in saline and iodine solutions, and then looking for an array of cells under their microscopes, including leukocytes, micelles, undigested food, and parasites. After evaluating the sample, they log the results in their ledger and send their observations to the presiding doctor. Meanwhile, back in Santa Cruz, we were also making steady progress with our samples in light of our delayed supplies shipment. We were able to detect incidents of campylobacter (gull wing bacteria in the upper left hand corner of video) and giardia/cryptosporidium (picture) in two of our samples. Additionally, we were afforded the opportunity to learn how to make our own SS and MacConkey agar plates from Teresita Flores, a local microbiologist who extended her expertise to us for an afternoon.
Unfortunately, all of this progress came to an abrupt halt on Wednesday when I received an email from Dr. Sinkinson’s medical supplier that we would not be receiving our supplies after all. Initially, this was devastating news considering I received email confirmation of their availability in early December. However, when one door closes, another is bound to open: on Thursday morning, Dr. Ordoñez agreed to release Hospital Nacional’s fecal data for 2010 to our study, essentially catapulting our sample population from 5 to 560! With a year’s worth of data now at our disposal, Brytani and I resolved to switch our focus to assess the correlation between rainfall and diarrheal disease—and thanks to the Guatemala national institute of climate studies Insivumeh, Lake Atitlan’s local water task force AMSCLAE, and private climatologist Liam Ar Aghaidh, this new approach is shaping up to be even more exciting than our original prospectus. 

As for Dr. Sinkinson, the story sadly does not end as pleasantly. From the outset, Dr. Sinkinson’s words did not match his deeds, i.e. requesting that I deposit the entire $2500 grant into his personal PayPal account without providing a full accounting prior to my arrival, failing to order the supplies in a timely fashion, and refusing to refund the $450 deposit I paid for supplies that were never delivered. The lesson to be learned is that when the host organization wants to obtain control of finances before a project begins, one should wary of their motives and request references from previous collaborations.

Tomorrow, I head back the states and conclude my global immersion research. I will be sure to keep you all posted about the results from the new (and hopefully improved) Guatemalan Infectious Disease study once I analyze the data. Until then, farewell health fans, and have a great 2011!

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One Comment

  1. Dennis says:

    Alex, sorry to see your work was interrupted. Do you have any information on the connection of rainfall and increase in E.coli at the start of rainy season at Lake Atitlan? I have read that the early rains wash a tremendous amount of sewage and other disease causing stuff into the lake and E.coli increases sufficiently to make it unwise to swim in the lake. I would love any input or comments about that.

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