Wabash Blogs Peru, Parasites & Global Health

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February 27, 2010

OK here in Lima from another natural disaster!

Regarding the 8.8 earthquake that has hit Chile early this morning....Just a quick note to say that we have felt nothing here in terms of tremors, etc. There are mixed reports on the tsunami warnings (we've been watching CNN like many of you probably have, but those differ a bit from what we've picked up from the Peruvian Navy reports, for example); we'll have to wait on that. Even though we're relatiavely close to the beach, our apartment is situated quite high above the ocean. So...perhaps there will be more to report later. Enjoy the photo of a beautiful sunset we took just a couple of days ago.

February 21, 2010

Pictures and Teaching

 Some pictures --

Since I've been in Peru I have had the opportunity to visit some interesting places, including the Peruvian Amazon and the mountains of Huaraz. In previous blog postings I've mentioned possible opportunities for Wabash students, but haven't had the chance to post larger numbers of photos. In case there's interest, I have posted nearly all of my photos from my time in the rainforest and from Huaraz in albums on my Facebook account. To see the Iquitos (rainforest) photos, click on the following links:
Public link to Iquitos photos:
and more Iquitos

Photos from Huaraz are at the following: 

Public link to Huaraz photos:
and more Huaraz


Some Teaching ---

Part of my experience here has been interacting with other researchers and students. I had the opportunity to give a general talk on ecological parasitology to an ecology class at the Universidad Cientifica del Peru in Iquitos. This past week I participated in an International Symposium on Parasite Diversity at the Universidad Ricardo Palma (URP); I presented a talk on Trematode Infection Ecology in Wetlands, as well as a general presentation on the Global Health connections I've made thus far in Peru. This week I will teach a two-day mini-course at the URP on Parasite Ecology, including some morning lectures and a trip to a nearby wetland to continue some of the snail-trematode work that we've been doing.

In future posts I hope to relate some of the additional contacts I've made here as well as news on upcoming trips I'll be taking to Puno and to Tarapoto.

February 12, 2010

Mountains Beyond Mountains

Many of you may know the book by Tracy Kidder, Mountains Beyond Mountains, which tells the story of Dr. Paul Farmer and his work in Haiti. It's an exciting and inspiring read and one that's been very challenging to me, as well. I have recently been reminded of this title by what I've seen the past few days.


This week I have worked in Huaraz, a city at the foot of the Cordillera Blanca in west-central Peru. Huaraz has a population of approximately 100,000 and sits at and elevation of about 3050 m (10,000 ft.). It's a beautiful area, with clear blue skies and views of snow-capped peaks. I travel with a Peruvian colleague of mine as a matter of course (since I continue to struggle with learning spanish), but an added bonus this trip was that my oldest two daughters came along to share the adventure.

Huaraz has its share of 'global health' problems. Many of the people in the mountains suffer from malnutrition, as their diet lacks protein. Potato and corn, corn and potato....these are the staples. Like every area I've seen thus far (and as is true all over the world), access to clean water is also an important factor in the levels and types of disease with which people suffer.

One of the areas we visited is Challhua, a small barrio on the edge of Huaraz. An interesting (yet alarming) note is that this community is located only about 2 blocks from the local Ministry of Health office. About 300 children live in this community, which is not recognized by the local government as it was the result of a land takeover by a group of people burdened by poverty.

Consequently, the area lacks electricity and ready-access to clean water; there is a raging (for now) stream that runs next to the community from which many people draw their water (in addition to using it to wash clothes, food, and who knows what else). Homes are of adobe, lack space and heat, and are highly susceptible to the rain and cold which exist in this area. While we were visiting, a steady rain came down making a complete mess of the roadways and in many of the homes.

One opportunity here for Wabash students is that of education for the kids who live in this community. This community (and most others we've encountered) lacks for good information on the causes, and prevention, of parasitic and infectious disease. Baseline data on infections do not exist, and there is a lack of understanding of the multi-faceted causes of the disease problems. Again, clean water and modest hygiene practices (e.g., it's a good idea to not live in the same room with your dogs, chickens, and pigs) are key.

The beautiful thing is that kids are the same everywhere. I had great fun in the short time we were there interacting with the horde of kids who were attracted to our small group of visitors. We were meeting in the "classroom" of a small community center / kindergarten and were surrounded by inquisitive and bright young kids. It was fun to have them swarm as they jockeyed for position to see their pictures on my camera.

Education and opportunities for sampling also exist in Llupa, a small village in the hills above Huaraz. This was another beautiful area that masks some of the struggles the Andean people have; a large percentage of the population suffers from malnutrition and diarrhea because of their diet and some of the parasites which can be found in the water. Access to this area is relatively easy as it's a short (but steep) trip from Huaraz.

We also took a trip further up the road to visit an inn (the Lazy Dog Inn) that's run by a couple of Canadian expats. They've been there nearly 10 years and have a registered NGO, the Andean Alliance. They do a good bit of education and community development work in addition to running an environmentally-conscious inn. They are striving to be totally off the grid in a few years; we had a great time talking with Diane Morris, one of the owners, about possible projects on which students could work, etc. Having previously lived in Ecuador and Colombia, they have a good on-the-ground perspective on global health issues and how those are approached at the local and regional levels. Their inn sits in an absolutely gorgeous area with amazing views all around them. It was an instructive and enjoyable visit.


February 07, 2010

Work in the Amazon

This past week was spent in the Peruvian Amazon. Last Sunday I flew to Iquitos, the most important city in the Peruvian Amazon. Iquitos is an incredibly interesting city. It’s relatively large (pop. About 500,000) but has somewhat of a small-town feel with a fun center city, a river-walk, etc. (Being somewhat of a frontier-town, it does have some serious problems, as well, but I’ll not go into those.) For its size, it’s interesting to note that Iquitos is not accessible by road – everything (and everyone) needs to come by boat or by plane, given that it’s pretty much surrounded by the Rio Amazonas -- Amazon River -- or associated wetland. Iquitos is located in the “state” of Loreto, Peru’s largest administrative unit; Loreto is roughly the size of California but only has about 1 million people (half of which live in/around Iquitos).

I traveled to Iquitos for two main reasons. The first part of the week I lived on a boat that is run by Project Amazonas, an NGO that is focused on education, conservation, and health care for the people of this region in the Amazon basin (see their website at http://www.projectamazonas.org/). My main interest was to investigate the possibilities for taking groups of “Global Health Program” students from Wabash to learn and to work in this area, as well as to investigate possible research projects on which students might be able to focus during a summer research experience in the rainforest. Project Amazonas owes four different field sites within the Amazon, with varying levels of buildings (e.g., lab facilities) and types of forest that are available for study.
This was a very enjoyable and productive visit. After a short trip on the Amazon River, we took moto-taxis (more on this later) to the small town of Mazan, on the Mazan River. As it turns out, a town very close to Mazan is named Indiana! Anyway, from Mazan we boarded the main boat owned by Project Amazonas – a vessel that can easily sleep up to 15 people or so. There were a few other folks on board, men from different walks of life who had different interests in the Amazon and the work of Project Amazonas. I was very impressed with Project Amazonas -- their mission and goals, Dr. Devon Graham (President and Scientific Director), their great staff, and their flexibility.
We spent some time helping a fish collector sample for different fish species in the rivers and blackwater streams that fed into the Rio Mazan and, later, the Rio Napo. (The Napo is the same river on which the Ecuador Program group worked a couple of years ago; of course, we were downriver from where they were in Ecuador.) Sampling for fish was helpful to me, in that we got the chance to look through an amazing diversity of Amazon fish species for parasites! There are a number of different projects that would be available for students in this area, with significant and new contributions to be made to the field. For me, the experience in the rainforest was astounding. The diversity of species and the fact that everything has something else growing in, or on, it was an amazing thing to behold.
The second reason I was in the region was to work at IVITA (Instituto Veterinario de Investigaciones Tropicales y de Altura), a field station of the Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos (UNMSM). With Wabash’s love of long history and tradition, many of you will appreciate the fact that UNMSM is the oldest officially established university in the Americas, having been founded in 1551. Research at IVITA is focused on work with non-human primates, including study of the parasitic infections of these animals. Moreover, additional opportunities exist for wildlife parasitology on various islands which occur in the Amazon River. Relatively little work has been on infections in this area, so potential projects abound. I also got a chance to visit some other interesting sites, including an institute where they study medicinal plants (with approx. 500 species of native plants) and another dedicated to the rehabilitation and conservation of rainforest manatees.
All in all, it was an eventful week. I hope to post some photo albums with some of the many pictures that I took from the forest and Iquitos, so re-visit the blog soon.