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Public & Community Health students travel to Guatemala to aid underserved region

Continuing a four-year effort to screen patients and treat medical issues in the underserved communities of Guatemala, a team of two Liberty University professors and four students from the Department of Public & Community Health spent June 11-22 in the Santa Rosa region assessing over 400 residents.

The ongoing project is in partnership with the Lynchburg, Va., church Iglesia de Las Americas and made possible by a grant from Liberty’s Center for Research and Scholarship. This year’s trip also partnered with a local nonprofit, Manos Unidas, and six churches in the Santa Rosa area.

The team was led by department chair Dr. Oswald Attin and assistant professor and instructional mentor Dr. Gineska Castillo. The students used the trip as a practicum to gain skills and experiences that will benefit their future careers.

Recent Master of Public Health graduate Addison Daugherty (’22) said she decided to sign up after seeing Attin’s passion for public health.

“I had been a student of (and worked for) Dr. Attin during the two years of my master’s degree, and he is a great public health professional with amazing knowledge and experiences in the field, so I knew I’d be able to learn many valuable skills that would equip me for work like this in the future,” she said.

In preparation for their work in Guatemala, the students did research on cultural relevancy, social norms, and environmental aspects that may affect patients’ health and their access to health care.

“While in Guatemala, the four of us ran six health clinics in five rural locations in Santa Rosa, where we had stations that checked blood glucose, anemia, blood pressure, weight, and height,” Daugherty explained. “After that, they went to see a doctor who would look over their forms and be able to help with any issues, and then the patients would head over to the pharmacy where they would collect vitamin packs, medicines, and face masks.”

Patients filled out intake forms, which the students will use to analyze data on the region’s nutritional status, water, sanitation and hygiene methods, and family planning.

Attin and Castillo led a summer trip to a different region of Guatemala last year, where they screened for the same medical issues, trained local healthcare workers, and served communities affected by recent hurricanes. One month prior, the department also held a local Hispanic health fair at Iglesia de Las Americas.

In comparison to the patients from the regions surveyed on previous occasions, Attin said the Santa Rosa population had more stomach-related issues, including bacterial and stomach infections due to poor water sanitation and foodborne illnesses, such as parasitic diseases. There were also multiple cases of anemia and uncontrolled blood pressure.

Daugherty said the patients left an impact on her, as she recalled hearing their complex stories and seeing their positive outlooks on life.

“Their joy and perspective were such a wonderful reminder of God’s goodness in each season,” she said. “People all over the world are wonderfully made, each with their own story to tell. I am grateful that the Lord gave me an opportunity to see more of His creation and engage in a new culture.”

Among their patients was a young man who worked at the team’s hotel. A screening revealed he was severely anemic, so much so that they took him to a local clinic for further testing. The man tested positive for H. pylori bacteria infection of the gut, an issue that had been untreated for a significant amount of time and had taken a toll on his health. Attin said the man was deeply impacted by the care and support he received from the Liberty team.

“He was so grateful and amazed by the love and care he had received that he decided to receive Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior,” Attin said. “Our department’s mission verse is Proverbs 13:17, ‘A faithful envoy brings healing,’ and we witnessed that firsthand.”

Liberty’s Department of Public & Community Health will continue its work in Guatemala next summer in the Puerto Barrios region.


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