Global Health, Travels

A South American Summer (Winter?)

alpaca

Really the whole post is to supplement this picture.

48 days from now, I’ll fly to Lima, Peru for the summer. Well, their winter really.

The main purpose of the trip is to join a tuberculosis (TB) research team for 2 months or so at Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredía in Lima. I’ll study factors associated with TB treatment default to learn more about treatment outcomes in this high incidence area. For anyone uninitiated into the world of TB epidemiology, this basically means that I’ll be looking into why people stop taking their TB drugs. Treatment default is a huge reason why we’ve seen an increase in the incidence of multi-drug resistant (MDR) strains of TB. Though mainly a problem in low- and middle-income regions, it’s truly becoming a global phenomenon. We’ve had MDR-TB cases (and XDR-TB – much worse) in Texas this year. Crazy, right? Read THIS if you want to learn more about my thoughts on TB. This research is part of the practicum experience required for the MPH degree I’m pursuing and I’m fortunate to have found an opportunity so closely aligned with my passions!

Anyway, that’s what I’ll do for the first 2 months of my trip. I’ll be living in an apartment in Miraflores, a nice area on the coast in Lima, and commuting up to the university during the week. Hopefully I’ll even be able to improve my Spanish a bit while I’m exploring the city!

Miraflores, Lima

Miraflores, Lima

I’ll wrap up the research portion of the trip after 8 weeks or so and get the chance to explore for another month(ish) before heading back to the furnace that is Austin in August. For the next two weeks, I’ll run around the rest of Peru trying to find as many llamas as possible. Machu Picchu is clearly high on the list and I’ll hopefully get to spend some time in Cuzco, Manu National Park, and any other opportunities that come up.

Cuzco

Beautiful Cuzco

Machu-Picchu

Machu Picchu

Manu-National-Park

Manu National Park

August 8th I’ll fly from Lima to Cartagena, Colombia, where I’ll spend my final dos semanas (check out those Spanish skills!). I really know very little about the area and have no idea what I’ll do once I arrive. It’s a town on the Caribbean coast, so clearly beaches will be involved, but any other plans are entirely up in the air at this point. Ideally I’ll make it over to Tayrona National Park and maybe down to Medellin if I’m not completely broke by this point.

Tayrona National Park Sunset

Tayrona National Park Sunset

Anyway, those are the plans for now. I’ll use this site/blog to keep you updated if you’re at all interested since I’m fairly social-media challenged.

Anyone been to Peru or Colombia? Any advice or travel recommendations would be fantastic. Gracias!

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3 thoughts on “A South American Summer (Winter?)

  1. Pablo says:

    Brian, interesting post. I commend your effort. When you are in Lima, please try to pay attention to some factors that create tuberculosis. It is good to study why TB patients default but what it is more interesting is to find out why healthy people become TB patients. People try to explain this in terms of poverty, inequality, etc. In my view, that deviates the attention. Main factors why there are too many people with tuberculosis in Lima are the urban chaos. The highest burden of TB in Peru is in three shanty towns in Lima (San Cosme, San Pedro, El Pino). These shanty towns are very close to each other, and all of them surround an illegal wholesale market which operates under the worst type of exploitation of human labor. Those are the first that get TB, and then they spread it in the community through the public transportation (combis). Google “tuberculosis anda en combi” and you will find some of this. Anyways, Lima is the richest city in Peru and also the city with the highest incident of tuberculosis. The reason for that is in this comment.

  2. Hey Pablo,

    Thanks for the feedback and the first comment on this new blog! Sounds like you have some local knowledge, so I appreciate your insights. I’ll be sure to keep all of this in mind as I embark on my research this summer.

    With TB, it’s important to remember that treatment is a form of prevention, as people become less infectious quickly after beginning treatment. While poverty, urbanization, inequality, and other sociological constructs are indeed important in understanding TB transmission, we have to ensure pragmatic solutions, both short- and long-term.

    Long-term, poverty reduction programs, urban re-design, and focuses on equal access to education and primary care can lead to reduction in most diseases that disproportionately affect the poor, such as TB. However, those that are already sick can’t wait for these and as such, we need to make sure that treatment programs are as effective as possible for them. Again, as TB is a curable disease, treating patients helps to stop the spread of disease as well.

    Undoubtedly, the global TB situation can only be explained through a combination of sociological and biomedical explanations. We know that the disease is caused by exposure to Mycobacterium tuberculosis, but we can also show that it’s “caused” by poverty, inequality, or other sociological constructs. Simply addressing one without the other will not be enough to make any progress. Poverty reduction programs are important, no doubt. However, effectively treating those already infected is equally important.

    Clearly treatment default is not the only factor in controlling the spread of TB, but it is nonetheless important. Hopefully any information we’re able to ascertain will help us continue to chip away at this plague that disproportionately affects so many.

    Thanks again for the feedback,

    Brian

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