Students Work to Fight Turberculosis in Peru

GlobeMed internship participants

From September, 2012

By William Wilcox, CSL intern

While many college students spent their summers inside air-conditioned offices, three University of Chicago students traveled more than 3,500 miles to help individuals living with tuberculosis (TB) in Peru. Third-year students Lauren Springett and Cindy Sui, and recent graduate Briana Flanagan AB’12 spent three weeks in Peru as part of an internship with GlobeMed, a Registered Student Organization. There they met and worked with representatives from the Association of People Affected by Tuberculosis in Peru, the non-profit their RSO works with and fundraises to support, to learn more about the program and aid in its execution.

“I thought that the internship was a great experience and it was also awesome to meet our partner organization,” Sui said. “The experience overall opened my eyes to a lot of different sides of medicine that I hadn’t seen previously. I think it really showed me how medicine and healthcare is not just about drugs, technology or better diagnostics.”

ASPAT is a small volunteer run non-profit in Peru that provides supplementary health services and resources for TB patients. GlobeMed, a national collegiate organization, connects each chapter with a medical non-profit organization.  Each chapter then raises awareness and fundraises for that non-profit. 

Since a chapter of GlobeMed began on campus in 2010, students, including Springett, Sui, and Flanagan have worked to fundraise $11,000 to help ASPAT buy food baskets and modular homes for TB patients. The food baskets helped patients maintain proper nutrition to fully recover from TB. The modular homes allow patients to live separately from their families so they don’t spread the disease. 

While in Peru the students visited and interviewed those TB patients who have been helped by ASPAT. They also shadowed ASPAT volunteers during their daily interactions with patients assisting wherever they could, and translated ASPAT’s website from Spanish into English. 

“I think the trip changes the students a lot because they’ve been working toward a project all year,” said Crystal Coats, an employee in the University Community Service Center who is the community service advisor for GlobeMed. “They’re learning from other students and from other resources about what they’ll be doing [during their trip], but all of that does not compare to actually being there and doing the work.”

The students’ experiences in Peru opened their eyes to new ways of thinking about medicine and health. 

“What really became apparent to me over those three weeks was how intertwined healthcare is with other issues in society,” Springett said. “You really can’t look at a disease and take it out of context and say ‘let’s cure the disease’ because the underlying root causes are so often poverty, lack of education or cultural stigmas. If you don’t have the solution for those underlying problems maybe you can cure one disease on the surface but something else is going to pop up.”

This has led them to change the way GlobeMed will approach fighting TB in Callao, the region of Peru they focus on with ASPAT. In the coming year Sui and Springett, who both hold leadership positions in the GlobeMed, plan to work with other GlobeMed members to organize a three or four day entrepreneurship boot-camp with ASPAT for 30-40 TB patients and their families. The GlobeMed members will evaluate and select 10-15 business plans submitted by program participants and provide the selected participants with funds to implement their ideas. Sui and Springett believe that this will better allow patients to escape both the social stigmas and the actual health issues of TB, a disease often associated with poverty.

“While there is a need for food baskets and modular homes, you’re really just targeting a few select individuals with this large program,” Sui said. “I think we and the volunteers at ASPAT realized that and tried to make a project that would teach a man how to fish instead of giving him the fish.”

UChicagoSocial: Campus and Student Life