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Medical students research health issues in Honduras

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The Class of 2015's Audrey Le interviewing a survey participant in La Hicaca, Honduras.

When two medical students followed their longtime passions for global health to Honduras, they conducted research that will make a difference for local residents.

In June, Audrey Le and Jaclyn Arquiette, students in the VCU School of Medicine, participated in HOMBRE, a medical mission trip organized by first-year students that takes place the summer before their second year.

At the local government's request, both students researched some of the region's key health issues.

Le chose to study indoor air pollution, and she looked into many potential causes, including fuels used for cooking, home construction and stove placement. She discovered that where families place their stoves can greatly affect their home's air quality.

"We will be taking Audrey's results back to the ministry of health and community leaders when we meet with them in January 2013," said Michael Stevens, M.D., who, along with Gonzalo Bearman, M.D., was one of the students' primary research mentors. "Her findings have implications for how stoves are positioned within kitchens."

Arquiette set out to determine if the water filters distributed by HOMBRE are successful in eradicating bacteria and preventing diarrheal illness. Although the water samples Arquiette collected from the filtered sources were not bacteria free, she found limited occurrences of E. coli, a bacteria commonly linked to a host of illnesses. She also determined that the individuals who used filters reported fewer cases of diarrhea. The findings showed that HOMBRE's water filter program is a success and provided support for a continuation of the program.

"Throughout this experience, I feel that I have really learned the unparalleled role public health plays in a community's collective health," Arquiette said of the experience. "Even the most basic measures, such as providing clean drinking water, play an astronomical role in the quality of one's health."

Because of the impact of their work, both students were asked to share their findings at the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene Conference in Atlanta, Ga. Le and Arquiette attended the November conference to present their abstracts.

"It was truly inspiring to be part of a gathering of students and academics from all corners of the world who shared a passion similar to my own for global medicine," Le said. "It was equally interesting to be able to learn about some of the many other ongoing research projects within the field."

Read more about the school's ongoing relief work to Honduras.

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The Class of 2015's Jaclyn Arquiette with a poster detailing her water filter research.
The Class of 2015's Jaclyn Arquiette with a poster detailing her water filter research.
The Class of 2015's Audrey Le interviewing a survey participant in La Hicaca, Honduras.
The Class of 2015's Audrey Le interviewing a survey participant in La Hicaca, Honduras.