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20 avr. 2006

WSU Students Assist Patients in the Amazon Region of Ecuador

(source : Washington State University)

Pullman, Wash. – Some areas of the world do not have electricity, airport strips or hospitals, and the people living there still need health services that most of us take for granted. That is the reason why four Washington State University students, led by College of Nursing Associate Professor Lorna Schumann, spent three weeks in March helping patients in the Amazon region of Ecuador.

Sponsored by the Zapara Nation of Ecuador (NAZAE) and with the collaboration and donations from the U.S. Embassy in Quito, the Missionary Aviation Fellowship (MAF), Heart to Heart International and Direct Relief International, the medical mission is one of the many in which WSU has participated since 1999. Other countries where medical missions have taken place include Belize, Honduras, Ukraine, Crimea, Pakistan, Vietnam and Egypt. The upcoming trip to Peru this summer has 21 students already enrolled, including two pharmacy students.

“This program helps WSU by making international contacts for research and practice and it helps the students by broadening their frames of reference,” said Schumann. “This trip provides the students the opportunity to see other cultures and other medical and herbal treatments. The medical mission also teaches students how to do without the things that students are used to having to treat patients with in the U.S.”

The four WSU students who went on the March medical mission to Ecuador are Nina Beach, from Portland, Ore.; Glenda Abercrombie, from Yakima; Lori Feagan, from Spokane; and Cheryl Waitkevich, from Olympia.
“This experience teaches the students the need to rely on the team and work closely with indigenous people groups. The students all come back saying that it was a life-changing experience and they want to go again. They also say how fortunate we are to live in the United States where we have so much,” said Schumann.
One of the most memorable patients to Schumann was a 16-month old albino girl who was blind and could not walk. “She was labeled as being filled with ‘an evil spirit’,” Schumann said. Some of the tribal people were discussing the issue of letting her die by not feeding her. “We talked to the tribal leaders about putting her in an orphanage. They stated that, although the parents did not want the child, they may not be willing to let her go to an orphanage.”

“One of the most rewarding things was how well the people articulated their appreciation. They let us know that nobody else before has committed that amount of time and care,” said Feagan. “We knew we made a difference.”

Taking canoes to see a patient, walking through the jungle, closing the clinic at dusk because of lack of electricity or talking to a patient through translators while there is a toucan on the table and a monkey swinging around is not what is in the mind of most nursing students when they think about practicing their career.

“There are many things to consider before participating in a trip like this,” said Feagan, who has 15 years of experience as a nurse and is now getting her bachelor’s degree in nursing. “This is not for everybody and it is not an exotic adventure, but a learning opportunity for students and the community we help. We were serving a much underserved population. There are only about 300 Zaparas in the world.”
The students paid the cost of their air flights, including the main flight to Quito and the jungle flights (with a discount by MAF) and other costs such as food and hotel. Additionally, family nurse practitioner students must sign up for internship credits. To be eligible to go on the trips, students must have completed two clinical courses.

“Because we see a large number of clients in a short time, students need to be very proficient in care delivery. During the January trip to southern Ecuador we saw 1,493 clients in nine days,“ said Schumann.
The towns that benefited from the WSU’s students help ranged from towns like Conambo, a village of about 200 people, to Balsaura, a village of only four families, which housed the oldest person in the territory, an 88-years-old woman. The trip also included a five-day stay in Shell, named after the oil company, where the headquarters of the NAZAE stand.

“Perhaps the most frustrating thing was to see how little access to basic healthcare and health promotion is available,” said Waitkevich. “Seems like some of the more prevalent health problems could be solved with basic teaching.”

The goals of the March trip to Ecuador were to educate the indigenous health care promoters on basic medical care such as first aid, caring for wounds, treating infections or treatment of snake bites. Each of the four providers worked with one indigenous health care promoter and one U.S. Embassy translator. During the course of their work, the students had to travel to remote areas by small plane or canoe.

“Our other major goal was to provide health care to the villagers, some of which had not had health care before. We took approximately $300,000 worth of medications and supplies into the jungle,” said Schumann, who helped secure donations of medical supplies ranging from snake anti-venom vials valued at $890 each to reading glasses from a dollar store.

The snake anti-venom was put to use a few days after their arrival, when an eight-year-old girl was brought to them with a snake bite. Due to weather conditions, she couldn’t be flown to Shell and was in serious condition when she arrived at Conambo. “We started giving her all the anti-venom that we had available,” said Beach in a report she prepared after the trip. “It was recommended that she get up to 10 vials. We only had five with us. We only got three vials infused and the plane returned ready to take her to the hospital in Shell. She was able to return to her home a few days later. Quite an experience!”

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