The first three letters of 'MEDLIFE' stand for Medicine, Education, and Development. Our work in Latin America seeks to improve the overall welfare of people living in poor communities by bettering access and services within each of these three pillars. Meredith McKay, MEDLIFE's media intern in Ecuador, created a short video to highlight the educational component of our Mobile Clinic program. Check it out!

Read our previous post on cervical cancer and the pap smear exam for more information on the work MEDLIFE is doing to combat cervical cancer in Ecuador and Peru.
August 10, 2011 9:33 am

Language and Power in Ecuador

Written by JP Gorham

24-1It seemed just like any other workday as we walked into the panaderia to pick up our breakfast rolls on our way to the Dirección de Educación. As we entered the familiar meeting room, a ministry engineer and two education officials greeted us with a handshake and a kiss on the cheek. MEDLIFE had agreed to work in Colta, a region of the mountainous Chimborazo province, to significantly improve access to bathrooms. We were meeting that morning to decide which schools would receive bathrooms first.

MEDLIFE had teamed up with the government's Escuelas Promatoras de Salud program for this effort. The Promatoras is a program that teaches school children about the importance of proper nutrition and hygiene. We felt that by working with this program, the bathrooms would be constructed near schools that were prepared to teach their students about the importance of hand-washing, thus maximizing the positive effect of our efforts.

As we began discussing possible project sites, an unexpected variable came into the equation: some of these schools under the Promatoras program umbrella were run by the bilingual education ministry, and others by the Hispanic education ministry.

Today, our Mobile Clinic group based in Riobamba, Ecuador visited the community of Colta -- a village inhabited by the Puruhá indigenous people. Colta is a small-scale milling industry where most people work in farming, growing potatoes, barley, wheat, beans, and quinoa (pictured below). Community members also raise cattle, sheep, poultry, and other types of wildlife.

Check out some photos from the community:
23-1 And from our Mobile Clinic:


22-1Ever since returning from our first MEDLIFE Mobile Clinic in Cebadas, Ecuador three years ago, fellow intern JP Gorham and I have been trying to figure out a way to give back even more to the communities we visited on that trip. After researching the major health issues facing Ecuador, we decided to focus our work this summer on malnutrition prevention. According to a 2004 report by the World Health Organization, 23% of Ecuadorian children under the age of five suffer from chronic malnutrition. This number jumps to 40% in the Chimborazo region, where MEDLIFE Ecuador is based. This health problem has the potential to exact an especially large impact on Ecuador's development, as one of the effects of chronic malnutrition is cognitive damage. Chronic malnutrition is more likely to develop in children living in poverty, and may prevent these children from realizing their full potential. In this way, it continues to feed the cycle of poverty.

As MEDLIFE interns this summer, we finally got the chance to turn our ideas into action. Ecuador recently announced Desnutrición Cero, which is a new malnutrition intervention program that provides financial incentives to mothers who take their children to health centers every two months. Women are eligible to receive incentives from the time that they are pregnant until their child reaches one year of age. After meeting with health officials in Colta, a community high in the Andes mountain range that the government is using as a pilot region for Desnutrición Cero, we agreed it would be our role to analyze the pilot program and create a set of recommendations to help maximize the program's impact nationwide.

August 29, 2011 4:00 pm

Student Spotlight: Nathan Anderson

Written by Joe Tylutki

School: University of Pennsylvania, class of 2011

What Nate's up to now: Currently Nate is serving for Teach for America. With his free time, Nate tries to keep up with all things MEDLIFE and continue to help out when needed.


Experience with MEDLIFE:

  • MEDLIFE 2010 Summer Intern: Based out of Lima, Peru, Nate immediately immersed himself in MEDLIFE's mission and the Latin culture. Nate split his time between working on new chapter development in the United States, and helping our MEDVIDA staff extend healthcare services and deliver infrastructural development projects to families and individuals living in the urban slums (or "pueblos jovenes") that surround Lima. Together with community members, the MEDVIDA staff, and fellow summer interns, Nate was part of the first-ever MEDLIFE Fund development project in Peru, which consisted of constructing two sets of staircases for families living on muddy hillsides.

  • Expansion Team member 2010-2011: After Nate finished his summer internship with MEDLIFE, he continued to help the communities in need by becoming a valuable contributor to the Expansion Team. As a MEDLIFE Expansion Team member, Nate worked alongside motivated individuals from various universities to assist them in the process of founding a new chapter. This process involves hosting an official MEDLIFE presentation for interested students, arranging a MEDLIFE fundraiser, and coordinating the school's first Mobile Clinic. With Nate's enthusiasm, he has helped students from University of Washington, UCLA, University of Maryland, and MIT found MEDLIFE Chapters. Nate's dedication to MEDLIFE has been directly responsible for the positive results achieved by those chapters.

  • Accomplishments: Nate recruited 43 students to participate in a MEDLIFE Mobile Clinic this past year. Through his service as an undergraduate student, Nate was responsible for delivering care to over 1,200 patients on Mobile Clinics, and almost $4,000 raised for MEDLIFE Fund development projects!

Thanks for all your help, Nathan, and best of luck in the future!

August 5, 2011 3:32 pm

Dealing with Tropical Disease in Panama

Written by Lisa Berdie

During the MEDLIFE Mobile Clinic in Panama this summer, student volunteers were shocked by the large number of patients who came in with ulcers on their skin. The doctor who worked with us on the clinic explained that these were symptoms of Leishmaniasis -- a disease which is rampant in the jungle and mountainous areas of Panama.

Leishmaniasis is transmitted through the phlebotomine sandfly, which thrives in the intertropical regions of the world and threatens the 350 million people living in these areas. There are an estimated 12 million current cases of leishmaniasis worldwide, with another 1.5 to 2 million people infected annually. Around 88,000 people die each year from the disease.

20-1There are three different types of leishmaniasis -- cutaneous, mucocutaneous, and visceral -- which each cause different symptoms. Cutaneous leishmaniasis is the most common and least dangerous form of the disease. Generally, several weeks after the initial bite by the sandfly the patient develops lesions on the skin. Though not generally painful, the lesions -- which look like ulcers -- can occur all over the body and can cause up to 200 sores at a given time. Though the lesions can heal on their own, they cause scarring, which can leave people disfigured and stigmatized.

Patients with mucocutaneous leishmaniasis develop lesions similar to those with cutaneous leishmaniasis, but the lesions occur in the mucous membranes rather than on the skin of the patient. These lesions generally occur between 1-3 months after the initial infection; however, there have been cases where it has been decades after the initial bite that the patient shows symptoms.

Check out our photo update from this week's mobile clinic in Lima, Peru! We're half way through the week, and looking forward to seeing more patients in different communities tomorrow and Friday:


July 27, 2011 11:49 pm

Parent Education in Peru

Written by Oana Butnareanu

18-1On a cold and misty Thursday afternoon, after an exhausting day of stair-building during our engineering brigade, I headed down the muddy slopes of Pamplona Alta alongside a few other MEDLIFE staff members towards a surprisingly clean green building, just a few minutes from our work site. 

This was one of the nearly half-dozen Wawa Wasi centers in Pamplona Alta – low cost daycare programs where children under four years of age from low-income families can spend the day while their mothers are studying or working outside the home. Wawa wasi is a Quechua phrase meaning "home for infants." The program was founded in 1993 as a collaborative effort between the Peruvian government and UNICEF to alleviate the dire needs of the increasing number of families living in poverty. For a nominal cost, children are provided with two full meals a day and are instructed in a number of subjects such as basic hygiene and early education.

18-2We were visiting this particular Wawa Wasi in the community of Mirador Dos to give a presentation to local mothers on basic hygiene and prevention of parasites. Stomach and intestinal parasites are rampant in Pamplona Alta due to exposure to contaminated water, food, and even the dirt in which children frequently play. Although we had expected to have somewhat of a larger audience, we were pleased with the ten or so parents who turned up. I began by asking the mothers how many of their kids had ever had diarrhea (although children worldwide frequently get diarrhea, it is a common cause of death in developing countries). Seeing an overwhelming number of hands go up, I clarified some of the common causes of diarrhea in developing countries, such as ingesting contaminated food and water. We then covered several essential points concerning hygiene, such as hand-washing and how to prevent transmission of contagious diseases.

July 22, 2011 3:04 pm

What Is a ‘Healthcare Desert'?

Written by Lindsay Bigda


This week, the Save the Children Federation (SCF) – an international organization that enforces children's rights in developing countries – released a report on so-called ‘healthcare deserts.' The term is akin to others used in the development world to describe areas devoid of resources (e.g ‘food desert'); SCF defines a ‘healthcare desert' as an area where a child “has not received any of the six routine immunizations, including diphtheria, whooping cough and tetanus, or received medical treatment or advice for diarrhea.”  

According to the report, at least 40 million children live in such healthcare deserts, lacking access to health care workers and medications for easily preventable (but often fatal) diseases such as diarrhea, pneumonia and malaria. SCF's study focused on 25 countries throughout Asia and Africa, naming India as the country with the most children in need. Yet, curiously, India's economy has grown in recent years. What's more, the child mortality rate has decreased globally. We look, on paper, like we are generally on target to meet the Millennium Development Goal of reducing -- by two thirds -- the under-five mortality rate.

Cervical cancer is the most frequent cancer contracted by women in Peru. It is the number two cancer killer of women in Ecuador; in the USA, it doesn't even crack the top 10. Women in Peru and Ecuador are 3-4 times more likely to be diagnosed with cervical cancer than women in the USA. The likelihood of mortality exacerbates the problem: the mortality rate for women in Ecuador and Peru is 5 times higher than for women in the USA.

The statistics explain enough: cervical cancer is a big problem in Peru and Ecuador. What is MEDLIFE doing to stem this epidemic?

Offering free pap smear exams
. The Pap smear is a screening test that detects warning signs of cervical cancer and pre-cancerous changes in the cervix. It is used extensively worldwide, and is generally recommended that women ages 18 and up receive an annual test. MEDLIFE hires a gynecologist or nurse-obstetrician to conduct pap smears during our Mobile Clinics. The exam is performed on site in a private gynecology tent, and the samples are analyzed at a local laboratory the following week. Individual results are then delivered to our patients by MEDLIFE patient follow-up coordinators.

Reaching women in need
. Hiring a gynecologist is easy -- getting local women to show up and take the test is the real challenge! There are many financial, educational, and cultural obstacles which prevent or discourage women in Ecuador and Peru from receiving regular Pap smear exams. MEDLIFE removes many of these barriers by physically bringing the Mobile Clinic directly into communities and need, and be offering the exam free of charge. On all Mobile Clinics, MEDLIFE conducts an educational program aimed at explaining the how the exam is conducted and enlightening women as to its importance. In the past two years, MEDLIFE has provided Pap smear exams to approximately 2000 women in Peru and Ecuador.

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