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Preventing the growth of disease through service and immersion

| Jessica Wicklund

In four weeks, biochemistry student Andrew Lynch completed his service-learning hours in Ecuador by providing a holistic solution for citizens in highly impoverished regions. Students and professors from Ohio State University and Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador, a Pontifical Catholic University in Ecuador, partnered with the Tropical Disease Institute to eradicate American trypanosomiasis.

Willing to do a dirty job, Andrew explained the process of a prevalent parasitic disease, commonly known as Chagas disease, which is spread throughout extensive poverty-stricken areas of Latin America. Chagas is most commonly spread through vectorborne transmission by direct contact with infected triatomine bugs.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the infected bugs pass T. cruzi parasites in their feces. Because they tend to favor human orifices, triatomine bugs are also known as "kissing bugs." After they bite and ingest blood, they defecate on the unsuspecting person which can cause Chagas disease if the parasite feces enter their body.

The kissing bugs are typically found in regions lacking regulation infrastructure such as houses made from mud, adobe, straw, and palm thatch. Without proper insulation, homeowners are far more susceptible to contracting Chagas and living with long-term effects such as heart cardiomyopathy.

As Chagas continues to expand across south and central America, Andrew’s work with the Tropical Disease Institute served those in need who are already prone to other diseases such as poverty and diabetes.

“I was able to expand my global cultural awareness, understanding and depth by appreciating foreign people as well as the disease that puts them at risk.” Andrew explained.

During the first two weeks of immersion, Andrew focused on humanitarian work. His days consisted of educating locals about the nature of the parasitic disease and how they can prevent future epidemics. “You don’t have to know someone’s language well to make a meaningful connection.”

Andrew sprayed exteriors of homes with organic pesticides in prevention of future infestations. Andrew noted that if eradication tactics are successful, the parasite will return if the lifestyles of the inhabitants remain the same.

The last two weeks of Andrew’s service-learning immersion experience, he put on his white coat and assisted in scientific research. Andrew worked closely with undergraduate students and post hocs to further understand and prevent the growth Chagas disease.