MPH Panama Practicum 2013: Vector Group Day 4, what a day!

Kathryn McMahon

July 10, 2013

It is already the end of day four of our Panama trip and we have already done so much it is hard to choose what to blog about! Time is flying by way too fast. One thing I am sure of is that I wish we were here longer. We have had so many experiences and opportunities so far, that have all prompted so many desires regarding work projects, it makes me fearful that we just don’t have enough time.

I am apart of the Vector Control group and I could not be more excited about the vast amount of experiences I have already been exposed to as well as, all the experiences and opportunities I have coming my way. All through out preparing for this trip, and even while on the ground in Panama, we have been told over and over again we need to be “flexible.” Schedules, assignments, anything can change at the drop of a hat and we need to be able to accept these changes and adapt quickly. I think of myself as a flexible person, but being in the Vector Group, it has become apparent, that the ability to be flexible is EXTREMELY important.

Today was our first day in the field, and let me tell you… it was amazing! We visited all the practicum sites yesterday and got a taste of what everyone will be doing however, we did not make it to the Vector site because it was too far. So unlike everyone else, it was day 3 and we still had no idea of what we were getting ourselves into. When we began our departure today for our first day actually being at and learning about the Vector Control, we were told we probably would not be able to actually go out in the field because of the rain. We were disappointed, yet “flexible.” However, when we got there the Jefe of the vector site, Franco, stated otherwise. His exact words were, “Vamos porque vamos.” (we are going to go because we are going to go). I couldn’t help but laugh, Franco is an amazing human, and at the same time be so excited that we were enduring the rain and finally beginning out vector adventure. It started with Franco explaining that he received news of a new case of Dengue that needed to be investigated and we were going to assist him. We spent time learning about the different infectious diseases: Malaria, Dengue, and Leishmaniasis including their treatments and the barriers that prevent the community members from seeking treatments and participating in preventative measures. And then we were off!

We got in the bus thinking we were going to visit the above talked about case of Dengue, and instead we went to the community water plant, a rural village in “The Blue Hill,” and a dog training facility. Talk about being flexible!! (we never made it to the Dengue case but hey, we still have plenty of time to fit it in). At the water plant IDAAN, we learned all about the process of sanitizing water and the different types of water. Learning about the two different types of water was honestly disheartening. We learned that the Urban areas (defined as a population of more than 1,500) receive water to their home that has been filtered and treated with Aluminum Sulfate and Chlorine. However, the rural areas (defined as having a population of 1,500 or less) just receive water in the form of a well or a aqueduct. The water that rural areas receive has not been treated, and is straight from the river that runs down the mountains. It is the responsibility of the water plant employees to travel to these areas and provide education on how to treat the water with Chlorine tablets. Yet the water plant does not provide these tablets and often times the community can not afford these tablets. We were able to see chlorine test done in the homes of community members and not one came back positive for Chlorine, meaning that almost, if not all, the community members were drinking and bathing in unfiltered water, putting them at high risk for parasitic and infectious diseases.

After visiting one of the rural communities in located at The Blue Hill and speaking with the water experts as well as community members, we learned that it was not that these rural communities are unaware of what they need to do in order to have clean water, and its not that they just simply do not care, what it ultimately comes down to is a lack of choice. These community members have to choose between using the little money that they have to provide dinner for their family OR buy chlorine for the community watering hole. Witnessing the effects of this choice, and being provided with this authentic perspective was eye opening to say the least. Even further at this rural community we were able to see the larvae of many different mosquitoes who ultimately are capable of transmitting diseases such as Dengue and Leishmaniasis. To top it off, Franco found these larvae in trash on the side of the rode that had gathered puddles of water.

Today we were able to see first hand the disparities that the people of Panama endure. I feel that this was the perfect way to start our trip in that it really opened our eyes to the needs of the community members. I can not wait to see what tomorrow brings.

About the MPH Panama Practicum

A group of 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. This post was excerpted from panama.usc.eduView all posts in this series »