MPH Panama Practicum 2012: Up close and personal with vector borne disease

July 13, 2012
Author: Christopher Lopez

Today we went along on a follow-up visit to a farm in the province of Cerro Azul. The farm sat on the end of along winding road down a steep embankment. Upon entry the owner of the farm greeted us warmly. He had himself contracted leishmaniasis. This disease is particularly vicious because it can cause disfiguration. It leaves large wounds on the face and body at the site of the initial bite. The farm owner, (Mario Munoz) showed us scars on his legs from the bites of the ?chitra? or sand fly. He wanted to know if there is a vaccination for this disease, in the United  States. We explained to him that the only cure for this right now is prevention. Despite it?s resources the U.S. has no cures or vaccinations.

His wife also had been bitten by the sand fly. She displayed various bites on her arms and told us she had been treated by an American doctor. She mentioned that she preferred the American way of treatment because you do not have to take multiple injections. Her husband has taken over 40 shot injections to cure his wound. They both argued a little about which treatment is more effective. The husband maintained that the health center has the final cure for leishmaniasis. We walked around the farm and did an environmental scan to look for areas of improvement as far as prevention is concerned. We offered a few prevention tips about clearing brush, using mosquito netting and insect repellant, etc. The Munoz family already had taken many precautions to prevent this disease. All in all, this was a great experience as we got to see how this disease impacts regular folks first hand.

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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