For more than 10 years, the Northwestern University Alliance for International Development (NU-AID) has been sending medical students to Latin America to provide care for underserved populations. This past summer, for the first time, 10 students traveled to Oaxaca, Mexico to establish a new project site.
“Prior to this trip we were going twice a year to Nicaragua,” said NU-AID board member and second year medical student Pedro Engel Gonzalez.
Gonzalez, who helped plan the Oaxaca trip, said the site was chosen after they were given the challenge of finding a location where students could not only stay longer, but also work within the country’s medical system.
“We decided that the Oaxaca trip provided a similar opportunity to what we were doing in Nicaragua – working with an underserved population and tropical medicine,” he said, adding that the Oaxaca trip lasted a month, significantly longer than the week-long Nicaragua trips.
NU-AID partnered with Child Family Health International, a U.S. non-governmental organization, started many years ago by a Stanford student who wanted to provide more opportunities for medical students to work in global health in a sustainable way.
Muthiah Vaduganathan, a fourth year medical student, was a member of the 10-person team that traveled to Oaxaca
this past summer.
“I was looking for a good opportunity to see real kinds of international health issues and have a global health experience,” he said. “We were able to see many clinical situations that we wouldn’t get to see in the United States.”
The first two weeks students worked in several different clinics with local physicians. Vaduganathan said Dengue fever, a virus transmitted by mosquitos, and Chagas disease, also spread by insects, were a few of the illnesses students saw at the Oaxaca clinic.
The second two weeks were devoted to public health issues. Vaduganathan’s team addressed the high maternal mortality rates. They spoke with midwives and 40 local women about contraceptives.
“This is the first time they were being exposed to health workers from abroad,” he said. “We were able to integrate our talks into their existing system.”
Mania Kupershtok, a second year medical student who was another member of the Oaxaca team, went on a previous NU-AID trip to Nicaragua. She said the Oaxaca trip was another great service-oriented opportunity.
“They have a really strong public health foundation,” she said, citing Oaxaca’s Opportunidades program, which the NU-AID team worked in tandem with. “I was surprised at how well they are currently doing. In the poorest areas everyone was still very educated about diabetes, hypertension – even down to how it works in your body.”
Though there is always room for more education, Vaduganathan said the people of Oaxaca are doing well with what they have.
“Although resources and money really limit a lot of the overall care, I think with the resources they have, the Mexican health care system was actually very efficient in terms of how they utilized those resources,” he said. “Their care for every day issues was excellent.”
Gonzalez said NU-AID plans to return to Oaxaca next summer, and though he won’t be able to join the trip then, he hopes to participate in his fourth year.
“How to reach out to underserved populations globally is a hard topic right now,” he said. “Hopefully we’re going to be sending a trip every year.”
Learn more about NU-AID: http://groups.northwestern.edu/nuaid/