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.

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.

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.

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