Public and community health students travel to Guatemala to help underserved area » Liberty News
Continuing a four-year effort to screen patients and treat medical problems in underserved communities in Guatemala, a team of two Liberty University professors and four students from the Department of Public and Community Health spent 11 to June 22 in the Santa Rosa area to assess more than 400 inhabitants.
The ongoing project is in partnership with the Iglesia de Las Americas Church in Lynchburg, Virginia, and made possible by a grant from Liberty’s Center for Research and Scholarship. This year’s trip also partnered with a local nonprofit, Manos Unidas, and six churches in the Santa Rosa area.
The team was led by department chair, Dr. Oswald Attin, and assistant professor and educational mentor, Dr. Gineska Castillo. The students used the trip as an internship to gain skills and experiences that will benefit their future careers.
Addison Daugherty (22), a recent graduate with a Masters in Public Health, said she decided to enroll after seeing Attin’s passion for public health.
“I had been a student of (and worked for) Dr Attin for the two years of my Masters, and he is an excellent public health professional with incredible knowledge and experience in the field, so I knew I I would be able to learn many valuable skills that would equip me for a job like this in the future,” she said.
In preparation for their work in Guatemala, the students conducted research on cultural relevance, social norms, and environmental aspects that may affect patients’ health and their access to health care.
“While in Guatemala, the four of us ran six health clinics in five rural areas of Santa Rosa, where we had stations that checked blood sugar, anemia, blood pressure, weight and height,” Daugherty explained. “After that they went to see a doctor who would review their forms and could help them with any problems and then the patients would go to the pharmacy where they would pick up vitamin packs, medicine and face masks.
The patients filled out intake forms, which the students will use to analyze data on the area’s nutritional status, water, sanitation and hygiene methods, and family planning.
Attin and Castillo led a summer trip to another region of Guatemala last year, where they screened for similar medical conditions, trained local health workers and served communities affected by recent hurricanes. A month prior, the department also held a local Hispanic health fair at Iglesia de Las Americas.
Compared to patients in areas interviewed on previous occasions, Attin said the people of Santa Rosa have more stomach-related issues, including bacterial and gastric infections due to poor water sanitation and foodborne diseases, such as parasitic diseases. There were also several cases of anemia and uncontrolled blood pressure.
Daugherty said the patients left an impact on her, as she remembered hearing their complex stories and seeing their positive outlook on life.
“Their joy and outlook was such a wonderful reminder of God’s goodness in every season,” she said. “People all over the world are wonderfully made, each with their own story to tell. I am grateful that the Lord has given me the opportunity to see more of His creation and to engage with a new culture.
Among their patients was a young man who worked at the team hotel. A screening revealed he had severe anemia, so much so that they took him to a local clinic for further testing. The man tested positive for infection of the gut with H. pylori bacteria, a condition that had gone untreated for a considerable time and had affected his health. Attin said the man was deeply touched by the care and support he received from Team Liberty.
“He was so grateful and amazed by the love and care he had received that he decided to receive Jesus Christ as his Lord and Saviour,” Attin said. “Our department’s mission verse is Proverbs 13:17, ‘A faithful messenger brings healing,’ and we have witnessed it firsthand.”
Liberty’s Department of Public and Community Health will continue its work in Guatemala next summer in the Puerto Barrios area.