Earlier this summer as most students were enjoying the start of summer vacation, 14 IIT students and one professor were boarding a plane to begin the almost 4,000 mile trek from Chicago to Lima, Peru. The group of IIT MEDLIFE Chapter members, were making the journey to participate in a MEDLIFE medical brigade. Through this brigade, the group assisted in providing medical care to locals, educated them about health topics, and built a staircase to provide the locals easy access to their homes.
Half of the students participating in the trip were biomedical engineering students from Armour College of Engineering. Armour College provided support for this group through the Student-Led Projects program to help make possible for such large group of IIT students to make this trip. Student-Led Projects are part of Armour College’s distinctive education program, and are designed to provide students with the opportunity to lead a project that will address an issue facing society.
When the group arrived in Peru, they participated in a “reality tour” where they visited Pamplona Alta, an impoverished area of Lima, which consisted of houses built on the sides of large dirt mountains. During the tour they learned about the difficulties people living in these areas encounter on a day-to-day basis. The major problems the locals face is the lack of clean water and access to electricity.
In a country where it can be difficult for people to visit a health clinic, the MEDLIFE team brought the clinic to the people. On a typical day the students would travel one to two hours via bus to different communities and set up clinics. The clinics include a station for dentistry, a station to teach children and adults how to brush their teeth, a gynecology station, a triage station to assess each patient based on the severity of their condition, and a station to meet with doctors. During the clinics the student helpers and doctors attempt to help as many patients as possible. Most of the diagnoses on the trip were for high blood pressure and parasites.
Over the course of a week, the group was able to assist in providing medical care to 172 adults and 171 children, 51 people received dental care, 88 women were screened for breast cancer, 76 women were screened for cervical cancer, and 275 children learned how to properly brush their teeth. The trip was an exhausting journey, but was well worth it for all involved. “At the end of each day, you could see the smiling faces of the all the volunteers who carry the sole intention of helping others, as well as the people who were so grateful to see their children and themselves get better,” said Omar Alhaj Ibrahim (BME 2nd Year).
During the trip the group built a staircase for the locals that will give them safer access to their homes and the resources they need on a daily basis. “We formed an assembly line and passed buckets of concrete upward until all the steps were completed and the next day we painted them,” recalled Mary Thomas (BIO 4th Year) the IIT MEDLIFE Chapter President and Co-Founder. “We actually built the 100th concrete staircase and celebrated this feat with the community by taking part in traditional dances and ceremonies.”
The work of the IIT MEDLIFE Chapter will not stop just because the trip is over. An IPRO class, IPRO 497-301, has been initiated for the Fall 2014 semester where students will create innovative ideas to expand healthcare infrastructure in developing countries within the context of Armour College’s Engineering Themes: health, water, energy and security. The class is currently open for registration.
On September 6, 2014 the IIT MEDLIFE Chapter will join chapters from Northwestern University, University of Chicago, Dominican University, and the University of Illinois at the MEDLIFE Midwest 2014 Conference to be held at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign. In the fall, the IIT-MEDLIFE Chapter will host a separate event with a panel discussion detailing their trip to Peru and the IPRO class.