MPH Panama Practicum 2012: Panama, week 1

July 8, 2012
Author: Stephanie Be

So I’ve been down here in Panama for about a week now. We?ve only really worked for a couple of days, but already I feel so inspired, rewarded, excited, and exhausted.

On Wednesday we were in the Centro de Salud (or free clinic) in a neighborhood called 24 de Diciembre just outside of Panama. Most of the clients are low-income, low-education level people from the surrounding area, many of them bringing their children in for vaccinations or check-ups. Here in Panama, children under 5 get free healthcare, all vaccinations for children are done in school (including the HPV vaccine for both boys AND girls at age 10), and if people can?t afford to pay for their care, they simply don?t. Obamacare what? The downside is, though, that the clinic is horribly understaffed. There are three nurses for the hundreds of patients they see each day (nurses are the boss here!), so if one of the nurses is sick they have to close an entire section of the clinic. Today all of the lights in the waiting room went out because of the rain storm, so all of the exam rooms were running off backup generators. Guess every system has pros and cons.

Anyway, on Wednesday we got to interview women who were bringing their children in for vaccinations about their perceptions of the healthcare system, health in general, and the things that concern them. Surprisingly, though many of them had been waiting for 3-5 hours by the time we spoke with them, they were in general satisfied with the healthcare system and with the quality of care they received. I suppose that if that?s all you know, it?s not so bad. Yesterday we went to one of the schools nearby to provide HPV vaccinations to the 5th and 6th grade classes. The kids were so incredibly adorable, even to someone who doesn?t particularly like children. They were SO excited when they found out I live an hour away from Disneyland and that I?ve seen snow before. When I couldn?t remember what ?nieve? meant, they dragged me to their English teacher?s classroom to ask her what it was in English.

Last night, we had a dinner with the most amazing food and view hosted by the founder and current president of Fundacion Oir es Vivir, a non-profit organization that provides hearing screenings to many populations throughout Panama as well as hearing aids and cochlear implants. It was so rejuvenating and inspiring, combined with the work we?ve been doing down here, that I can?t wait to get out there and DO something. Every day I marvel at how much can be accomplished with such few resources here, that I also marvel at how little we get done with so many resources in the US. I can?t wait to go to work on Monday and to get home to see what we can do.

More about the MPH Panama Practicum

A group of 15 University of Southern California graduate students are researching public health in Panama City, Panama, for a two-week international practicum, organized by the USC Master of Public Health (MPH) program. The students have been divided into three groups to work on maternal and child health, vaccination, environmental infectious diseases, nutrition and physical activity.

One group will be surveying patients about the healthcare system at a local clinic and proposing interventions to improve vaccination, infant development and women’s health. Another group will be in the field responding to outbreaks of environmentally spread infectious diseases and working to control common vectors such as mosquitoes. The last group will be calculating body mass index measurements for elementary school students and developing methods to improve nutrition and exercise within the school.

During their trip, the students will also be attending lectures on Panama’s healthcare system and statistics as well as visiting a remote indigenous tribe. Before leaving Panama, each student will be providing a deliverable that is intended to improve health in Panama.

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