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Public Health Students Collaborate with University of Costa Rica to Deliver Parasite Prevention Measures Abroad

ALBANY, N.Y. (March 27, 2013) — When a contingent from the University at Albany’s Center for Global Health went to Costa Rica in January to help isolated communities with parasite-prevention measures, they gained first-hand experience in delivering public health and learned the importance of global collaboration.

During the service-learning trip, led by School of Public Health Assistant Dean Carol Whittaker, the 16-member group of students and Center staff delve into Costa Rica’s healthcare system from several different perspectives, including the country’s ministry of health, and local and county hospitals.

The most dramatic aspect of the 10-day expedition involved the experience students acquired collaborating with colleagues from the University of Costa Rica (UCR) in providing members of an indigenous population with public health knowledge and skills to prevent parasite infection. Parasites in the region cause such diseases as malaria, dysentery, and, in the case of the Chagas parasite, destruction of the heart muscles. 

SPH students in Costa Rica
Taking a moment to pose on a mountainside near the village of Brus Malis are expedition members Jean Carlo Córdoba Navarrete of the University of Costa Rica, UAlbany student Allie Kline, School of Public Health alumna Michele Andrews, UAlbany MPH student Jillian Jeffrey, and Don Federico, a Ngobe community health worker.

Alleviating the menace to communities of such infections was the goal of UAlbany students, among them graduate student Allison Kline, a Liberty, Missouri, native who traveled to an isolated mountain-top village near the Costa Rican-Panama border populated by the Ngobe people.

“When we reached the village of Brus Malis, we split into groups each accompanied by a UCR student or staff member, along with a Ngobe community health worker. Our mission was to educate families on how to prevent parasite infections, deliver antibiotics to treat existing infections, and supply rain boots that would protect children’s feet from being infected by parasites in soil,” Kline said. “I was able to use my Spanish skills to instruct parents and children on proper hand-washing techniques.”

Kline said the trip advanced her interests in health education as well as providing her with first-hand knowledge on the creation of culturally effective public health messages. “I am very grateful for the opportunity I had to observe community health workers in the field and to work with so many amazing people from UCR,” she said.

This was the Center’s fourth trip to Costa Rica. It makes similar study abroad trips to the Dominican Republic to support persons living with HIV/AIDS and their families.

The Center is part of UAlbany’s School of Public Health and serves as a focal point for international education, research collaborations, and programs. The Center addresses major global public health challenges through educational programs, capacity building projects, applied research, interventions, faculty and student exchanges, and evaluation. It works in partnership with the School of Public Health, UAlbany academic departments, the NYS Department of Health, and selected U.S. and international institutions.

“I continue to be excited about these opportunities for participants to learn about other health care systems,” said Whittaker. “We are proud of our students and their willingness to use their vacation time to help others. There’s no doubt they feel a great sense of accomplishment and learn a great deal from these experiences.”