I arrived in Ulaanbaatar on June 26th, with two large suitcases stuffed to the brim with plastic pipettes, culture swabs and test tubes inconspicuously scattered among my clothes. After letting out a sigh of relief as I breezed safely through customs, I was warmly greeted by my onsite mentor, Dr. Jargalsaikhan, eagerly awaiting my arrival with a handmade sign.
A lot of my pre-trip preparations involved coordinating the logistics of getting the necessary laboratory supplies to Mongolia. The biggest challenge was figuring out how to transport the reagents with a strict temperature requirement and short shelf life, which would not travel well in the pockets of my checked-in luggage. My pre-trip phase involved a lot of phone calls to confused supplier representatives, confirming that yes, I did say I wanted my order Fed-Exed to Mongolia.
Once in country, my mission was to secure a lab space with a small bench area for running samples, acquiring access to an incubator and fridge, and getting my hand on an ever elusive -80 freezer to store our samples. We had heard whispers of a -80 freezer but the trail always lead to a dead end. We joked that about conducting the study in winter, so we could store the samples in the snow (after all, in winter Ulaanbaatar becomes the coldest capital city in the world!) There were so many little details involved in setting up a laboratory that I had never considered. The microbiology lab at Urguu Maternity Hospital was one small room, about the size of a large walk-in closet. I was given a tour by the microbiologist on site, who proudly showed off the lab amenities, and to my delight, as cozy as it was, the lab space had everything we needed– a culture hood, a fridge, and an incubator. Things were starting to fall into place, one petri dish at a time.
A key aspect of my trip involved educating obstetricians and trainees about Group B Streptococcus disease in infants and pregnant women, and introducing the significance of our proposed project to the department. I developed a PowerPoint presentation providing background on GBS microbiology, GBS disease in infants and pregnant women, and potential interventions. I also designed a pamphlet to distribute to our colleagues, introducing our project goals, outlining the protocol, and explaining the significance of this research. Dr. Jargalsaikhan translated the materials to Mongolian, and presented the PowerPoint to the department of obstetrics and gynecology at Urguu Hospital. The department was very keen to collaborate on this research project and echoed the importance of understanding GBS disease burden in Mongolia to improve maternal and infant health in the country.
Divya Patel is a medical student at the Keck School of Medicine of USC. Her project, “Prevalence of Group B Streptococcus in Pregnant Women in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia,” is supported by the Anderson Family Global Health Immersion Fellowship.