By Stephan Chiu
This past December, I returned home from a Global Medical Training (GMT) trip to Nicaragua. GMT organizes trips in which college students travel to foreign countries to work with local doctors and translators in medical clinics. Eight days and 60 patients later, I come back with a better perspective on the state of health in Nicaragua, as well as global health in general.
Nicaragua is a poor country with over half of the country living below the poverty line, and most ailments of patients were a result of their living conditions. Parasites such as roundworms and amoebas are rampant. One 13-year-old patient shocked us when she threw up during a clinical visit, revealing no less than twenty roundworms wriggling in her vomit. Contamination in water supplies, combined with improper hygiene, leads to these parasites being a part of daily life there.
One clinic day, I went with a few group members and a doctor on a house visit to see a patient who was too weak to make it to clinic. After treating her, we were allowed to tour their home and get a glimpse of daily life for villagers there. I saw a stagnant tank of water sitting in the open. When I asked what it was used for, they answered for washing and drinking. In addition, I saw their “shower” – it consisted of a pitched black tarp surrounding several buckets of water.
Although we served hundreds of clients during our time there, I feel that our impact, while significant, was only a temporary solution to a larger problem. What we need is not more pharmaceuticals or supplies, but better education. The poor and uneducated of Nicaragua often do not have basic understanding of hygiene and sanitation. Even implementing fundamental changes to their lifestyle could make a great impact on their overall well-being.
To help make these changes a reality, health education tables should be implemented at clinics and hospitals in poor afflicted regions such as the ones I worked in. Helpful advisors and easy to understand pamphlets would educate patients on the basics of sanitation, healthy diet, diabetes prevention, and other pressing issues. Just a simple increase in health education could prevent much of the pain and complications that I witnessed.