“The contrast between how we do things in the U.S. and how things are done there is astounding.”
Speaking at a break-neck pace that barely contained her enthusiasm, Casey Richardson reverently recounted her 4-week trip to assist training and evaluating traditional birth attendants in rural Mexico, where access to hospital births is often compromised. It was an eye-opening experience for Richardson, a 2nd year medical student at Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine, who presented her findings Friday during a poster session for Northwestern’s Global Health Day.
Her partner, fellow student, Lauren Sheehy, quickly chimed in with a story of her own. She remembers having a headache one morning on the way to the clinic and “popping an Advil” with no second thought. “Then I go there and I watch a woman give birth and I realize I have more painkillers in my system than this woman who is giving birth– and she’s only making as much of a fuss as [a woman on an epidural] here is,” she said. “That was amazing to me.”
The two students were joined Friday by 20 of their peers who also showcased their work abroad as part of a poster session co-hosted by the Feinberg Student Committee on Global Health, the Center for Global Health and the Global Health Initiative at Northwestern University. The subject matter ranged from reproductive health in Ecuador to health resource disparities in India, and students filled the space with an energetic buzz as they spoke about their projects.
Tyler Maiers, another presenter, eagerly described his work in Johannesburg, South Africa, where he monitored finger-stick blood tests used for HIV viral load tests. His project aimed to determine whether the finger-stick tests, as opposed to the traditional venipuncture, were an accurate and feasible way to measure HIV viral load, a metric of the level of HIV in a person’s blood that is essential to determining treatment efficacy. He happily reported that 98 percent of tests were successful. The findings have huge implications: finger-stick tests are quicker and can be administered by non-medically-trained persons– an important factor in places with limited resources. “Hopefully, if this all goes through, rural clinics in South Africa will have the ability to do viral load for the first time,” Maiers said.
Students walked away from their trips with a deeper understanding of global problems, new levels of personal growth and discovery (Sheehy says her work in Mexico convinced her to specialize in obstetrics and gynecology), and a sense of accomplishment for the good work that can be done in the world.
“The most rewarding part is after you pricked someone’s finger, oddly enough, they’ll look at you and smile and say, ‘Thank you’– which is pretty weird. You just stuck their finger with a needle,” Maiers said with a short laugh. “But the patients themselves actually understood that they were going to benefit from the test. I think they’re just happy that someone was there listening to them.”