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HEALTH SCIENCE STUDENTS PROVIDE CARE AROUND THE WORLD
November 19, 2010
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In March of 2010, 19 TEAC medical students and two Temple University Hospital attending physicians, Drs. Manish Garg and Thomas Comerci, traveled to El Salvador to assist those affected by the devastating floods and landslides caused by Hurricane Ida.
When a natural or geopolitical disaster occurs abroad, international media coverage often spurs a flurry of volunteers and outpouring of relief funds. But when the news cameras go away, the real need begins.
To that end, Temple’s School of Medicine and the Temple Emergency Action Corps (TEAC) are hosting a symposium in December focusing on disaster response efforts that have evolved into long-term health care solutions in countries around the world.
“The symposium is designed to foster a discussion on how we can increase awareness of areas most in need, and also how to formulate plans that can benefit residents long after the initial relief effort,” said Alison Marshall, co-chair of TEAC and a second-year medical student.
TEAC began in 2005 as a response to devastation in New Orleans caused by Hurricane Katrina. Students made several trips to offer medical assistance and general manpower to residents in hurricane- and flood-ravaged parts of the city. Thanks to a generous donation from the Greenfield Foundation in 2007, the group was able to expand its efforts globally, visiting countries like Bolivia, Honduras and El Salvador to provide much needed medical care.
But the students involved with TEAC are not alone. For years, Temple students from across the health sciences have spent summer vacations and spring breaks overseas helping disaster victims. During any given academic year, more than 300 Temple health students will travel abroad to help improve the health of thousands of people around the world.
Central America and the Caribbean
Each trip builds on feedback from the community from prior trips. Last summer, students conducted home visits to educate residents about diabetes, held workshops on HIV/AIDS prevention, conducted a youth risk behavior study with teens in the villages and led discussions on gender communication. The residents want the program to return next summer with more programs on gender communication and drug and alcohol education.
“Costa Rica has a fairly good health care infrastructure, but the area we visit is the most neglected in the country,” said Haignere. “We base our curriculum around the needs of these communities. Because residents are so concerned with things like drug abuse among their teenagers, and domestic violence, these are the areas we plan to address during our next program.”
In total, the group saw close to 540 patients, and treated them for a variety of health problems ranging from upper respiratory infections to vision problems to depression. In addition, the group performed procedures including wound care, gynecological exams, suturing and even a lingual frenulectomy, in which a restrictive fold of tissue attaching the tongue to the bottom of the mouth is removed to facilitate full articulation of the tongue.
“That was amazing to see,” said Aaron Tannenbaum, a second-year medical student and director of another of TEAC’s programs, the Homeless Initiative. “The boy was unable to talk before, and the parents had always thought it was because of a developmental disorder. But all he needed was a very small, basic procedure to give him his voice back. The basic services we provide can make a huge difference in the lives of the people we see.”
One of the biggest areas of focus for the School of Podiatry is community outreach. By holding health fairs, foot screenings and informational sessions, the students and faculty are able to reach thousands of people in the Philadelphia area every year.
And for the first time this February, students will be able to extend that reach globally as they embark on a week-long humanitarian medical mission trip to Nicaragua. Led by Jeffrey Siegel, an Adjunct Professor of Podiatric Medicine, Orthopedics and Surgery, two students and one podiatric surgical resident will spend a week treating citizens for a variety of congenital and neglected deformities related to the foot and ankle, including clubfoot, trauma and wound care. They will triage patients with Siegel and assist with reconstructive surgical procedures at the Heodra Hospital, in the city of Leon.
“Temple’s commitment to global learning and service is something we’ve wanted to get involved in for some time,” said Kathya Zinszer, Chair of the Department of Podiatric Medicine and Orthopedics. “We’re excited to now be able to offer that opportunity to podiatric students as well.”
“Words cannot describe what we saw,” said Josh Bresler, an Associate Professor of Pediatrics and the director of the Haiti Club. “I remember some beautiful buildings from previous trips that were just piles of concrete and trash. The court house, presidential palace, major churches and schools were all demolished. The smell throughout the city was horrible from trash and what must have been bodies decaying under the huge piles of rubble everywhere.”
Despite the conditions, Bresler and the team of students were able to see close to 1,000 patients during their week in the Haitian countryside. The students performed extractions, and cleanings, drained abscesses, discussed nutritional health with villagers, and treated a man’s jaw that had been broken by falling debris from the earthquake.
Bresler says that the increased awareness of Haiti helped the students tremendously. “There were more doctors and more equipment there than I’ve ever seen,” he said. “And we had an increased interest in students who want to go on this year’s trip.”
“But after the cameras go away, the need is still there for help,” he added. “In fact, there’s an even bigger need after that.”
Medical students also got involved in the relief effort; TEAC raised over $60,000 in funds and surgical supplies for those affected by the earthquake, and the group plans to travel there this winter to provide care to those still living in tent cities.
Five second-year medical students — Carolyn Brandon, Maureen Daly, Laura Kwoh, Rebecca Romero, and David Whitney — spent several weeks in the country, traveling to clinics and hospitals to take patient histories, perform physical exams, offer general health care and hygiene recommendations, treat patients for malaria and typhoid and even help deliver babies.
“It was incredible,” said Brandon. “It was the first experience where I was actually the doctor, where I was the one seeing patients.”
To learn more about TUSM medical students' recent trip to Ghana, please visit www.temple.edu/medicine/global_health_ghana.htm.
For more information on the Temple Emergency Action Corps and the December symposium, please visit www.temple.edu/medicine/teac/index.htm.
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