Written by Melissa Kim, Pharmacy and Law student
Student volunteers from nearly every professional school at the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB) recently traveled to Tegucigalpa, Honduras, for a weeklong medical mission trip. During the week, students from the campus' pharmacy, law, nursing, dental, social work, and graduate schools provided medical and dental care to more than 1,600 Honduran men, women, and children.
Fourth-year student pharmacist William Albanese coordinated the Global Brigades trip with the vision of bringing an interdisciplinary health care team to the people of Honduras. In the summer of 2010, Albanese traveled to Honduras with a group of undergraduate students from Pennsylvania State University and knew the project would be a good fit for the UMB campus.
Thanks to the generous support of EPIC Pharmacies, Tinsley Bible Drug Co., Professional Pharmacy, the School of Pharmacy, and several other sponsors, the group was able to bring 25 suitcases full of medications, medical and dental supplies, and hygiene products to some of the poorest, isolated areas in Honduras in early January.
With a family income of less than $2 per day, local residents often went without food, and families do not have the luxury of clean water to drink or soap to stay clean.
The UMB students were able to serve the communities of La Cienega, San Diego Sul, and Manzaragua, where, with virtually no access to health care, families hiked anywhere from one to three hours to the clinic desperate for medical attention.
At the clinic, patients rotated through five different stations: triage, medical, dental, pharmacy, and charlas ("talks"). This setup allowed for a more integrated, interdisciplinary approach toward health care. Physicians diagnosed the patients and the pharmacists used their expertise to treat the diagnoses, often needing to think creatively with the limited supplies available.
In addition to the clinical experience, this brigade also provided the opportunity for students of different disciplines to work side-by-side and learn from each other.
"Because students had the chance to rotate through the various stations, there were pharmacy students working in dental helping with tooth extractions, students from social work interviewing patients alongside nursing students in triage, and law students working in the pharmacy," says Albanese.
The clinical team also screened patients for hypertension, pulled 113 diseased teeth, dispensed more than 55,000 multivitamins, and 10 soccer balls to the local children.
During the "talks," the students stressed the importance of good hygiene and taught almost 100 children how to brush their teeth, distributing 1,200 toothbrushes with toothpaste, and 1,500 shampoo and soap packets to the local families.
"Needless to say, this was a life-changing and memorable experience," Albanese says. "It also left all the brigaders itching to go back, wanting to do more, and give more to the people of Honduras."
Editor's note: Global Brigades describes itself as "the world's largest student-led global health and sustainable development organization. Since 2004, Global Brigades has mobilized thousands of university students and professionals through nine skill-based service programs to improve quality of life in under-resourced communities."