The last time I looked at the data, over half of our kids in Cambio Puente had parasites. About 90% of what I know about parasites, I have learned in the past week and a half. People look at me skeptically when I tell them that we don’t really have parasites in the US. One of my co-workers actually laughed at me when I told her that we can drink the tap water back home. It took some convincing for her to realize I wasn’t pulling her leg.
Parasites have taken over my life this past week. Not in the ‘ohdearIneedabathroomNOW’ sense, but in the ‘I get to spend my days testing kids for parasites and working on treatment options’ sense. Sounds cool, right? Right. Starting last week, our community agents in Cambio Puente started collecting samples from all our kids. They were nice enough to do the dirty work and we lugged those stinky coolers off to the lab for processing. This was the first step. The second step was left up to the nurses. As a rule, I don’t like to sacrifice my sleep for much, but those cute kids out in Cambio Puente seem to have a way of getting me to do almost anything. For three days this week, our team of nurses was out in Cambio Puente before 7:00 in order to get to the kids right when they woke up. House by house, in each sector of Cambio Puente, we did the scotch tape test on the kids enrolled in our project. If you have not heard about this test and want to know what it is, you can find a brief description here (just remember, these are intestinal parasites). The kids were surprisingly well behaved for the uncomfortable position we were putting them in—I only had one avocado sandwich thrown at me!
Parasites are tricky little devils. Not tricky to get. Not tricky to identify. Tricky to treat. Let me rephrase, we know exactly how to treat the parasites we are dealing with, the problem comes with actually getting the medicine we require. Anti-parasitics are cheap to buy. Depending on your source, they cost anywhere from two to seven cents per dose. From the standpoint of a lot of public health projects, that can really start to add up. The hope for our project is to be able to carry out two rounds of treatment per year. Now here’s the real problem, since parasites have been largely eradicated in the developed world, most pharmaceutical companies have little incentive to produce the medication since the majority is given out as donations. The quantities required are not available. This is when things get tricky; when we have to acquire said medication. There is another tricky area—the fact that these kids will almost certainly get parasites again. It almost feels like we’re just putting a bandaid over the problem. However, kids who are parasite-free, even for a short amount of time, can reap great benefits. Since parasites can consume up to 25% of what the host ingests, kids who are parasite-free have more energy, do better in school, grow like they should and are more able to fight off other diseases. If we want our kids to remain parasite-free, however, we need to do more than just treat them twice a year. We have to intervene at the home level. This is why handwashing is so important! Such a seemingly simple solution to a big problem in much of the world.
These little worms will continue to take up much of my time for the coming month and a half. I’m looking forward to (hopefully) winning this little parasite battle.
My friend lent me the book ‘Donde No Hay Doctor’ (it comes in English, too). For anyone interested in really rural health, it is an interesting read and a great resource to have on hand.
I think I have managed to change my settings on here as far as comments are concerned. So for all (three) of you who have just been dying to get your comments up here and haven’t been able to, you are in luck! Comment away!