WCU Global Public Health Cohort in Belize Provides Boost to Community HIV-Testing on World AIDS Day

Posted on 02/01/2016

Sometimes studying public health means handling private information.

This December while in Belize, West Coast University Global Public Health nursing students took part at a health fair on World AIDS Day. WCU students conducted blood pressure and blood glucose exams for the Punta Gorda community, and encouraged locals to get rapid HIV-testing at the fair from the national Ministry of Health.

"The students really engaged the people who came by to get their blood glucose checked and said 'Hey, I can also offer you a rapid HIV-test at the same time.' So they get one poke, do the blood glucose, do the HIV, done," WCU International Education Faculty Manager Bethany Thrasher said. 

2015 Belize - Fall 2

  • WCU-Dallas: Erica Tidwell, Emmy Le
  • WCU-Los Angeles: Christian Santos, Ethel Llaneza
  • WCU-Ontario: Amber LoPatriello, Alexis Dizon
  • WCU-Orange County: Slade Stoller, Roxana Cisneros
  • Faculty Coordinator: Cheryl Rojas, WCU-OC

One man told the students he wanted to be tested, but was afraid his HIV status wouldn't be private. They assured him no one else would know the outcome, but the man remained unconvinced until one WCU student volunteered to give the test and vowed complete secrecy.

“She made a pact with him and he had his test done that day," Thrasher said. "He may have never had been tested before and I don’t know what his results were — obviously confidential — but that’s a big deal."

Thrasher said the WCU students were instrumental in recruiting more Punta Gorda residents to have HIV testing than ever before at an AIDS-awareness event.

"When the nurse they were working with was going through her log, she was looking for additional pages to add names. They had never done more than about 19, 20 tests in one day and by the end over 60 patients had completed rapid HIV-tests," Thrasher said.

WCU Global Public Health students also supported patient education, immunizations and physical assessment in partnership with the Polyclinic Public Health Nurse Cayetano. Education on pre-natal care, newborn care and healthy nutrition was offered to the waiting patients within the Polyclinic.

The vector control rotation offered WCU students a glimpse into the Ministry of Health's work in eradicating malaria in the Toledo District. There have been no cases of the mosquito-borne virus reported within the region in the past two years and the World Health Organization was conducting an inspection during the cohort's visit to confirm this achievement.

Donated Items

WCU students didn't go to Belize empty handed thanks to several organizations. Items donated to Belize included:

  • 600 tongue depressors
  • 500 hypodermic needles/syringes
  • 300 cotton swabs
  • 250 travel-sized toothpaste
  • 200 otoscope covers
  • 200 child toothbrushes
  • 100 fox tail swabs
  • 4 automated blood pressure cuff machines
  • 1 bag respirator

Thanks to: Barranca Canyon Dentistry, Southwest Healthcare, Wildomar Radiation Therapy Center, West Coast University-DH Clinic

"Before this trip I assumed public health was all home health and dialysis, but it is so much more," WCU-Dallas BSN student Erica Tidwell said. "We are all public health nurses in some way. We have to assess populations, deal with mass casualties, and essentially become detectives when we notice trends in healthcare." 

GPH scholars also traveled to various areas within Toledo with Hillside Health Care International to provide basic care and home visits. Some mobile clinic sites were nearly two hours away on bumpy dirt roads. The students worked alongside local medical, pharmacy and physical therapy students.

Hillside Health Care International's home care and hospice program was another opportunity for learning about how to best support patients and their families when resources are low or absent. A listening ear and a gentle smile is often the best thing to offer in hospice care.

"If I had to name one thing I have taken from this journey as a nurse, it would be to value each patient and do all that is in my power to help them. Even if what I have at my disposal is not enough, I will have no regret for what I've done for them," WCU-Dallas BSN student Emmy Le said.

Laugh Out Loud Orphanage provided a fantastic opportunity for students to stretch themselves in the presentation of typical childhood illnesses and injuries to the volunteer staff at the orphanage. WCU students spent several days fine tuning a PowerPoint presentation for the two-hour session. All students participated and received valuable feedback from the audience and leadership of the orphanage. The group also prepared a few posters that could be placed in the orphanage to easily access quick first aid information.

Cultural excursions included seeing two Mayan ruins and sharing a traditional Mayan meal. WCU was given a glimpse into the hard labor involved in creating everyday tools needed in a Mayan home. The cohort also had an opportunity to learn some background on the Garifuna culture, which included a display of dance and drums work with a traditional dish of coconut milk, fish and corn mush.

"I am proud of the work I have accomplished in Belize, but I left sad knowing that there is much more to be done. I have just gotten a taste of what is out there waiting to be done in the world and I cannot wait to finish as an RN and go back to serve other communities than my own," WCU-Los Angeles BSN student Christian Santos said.

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