News & Events - Panama
USF Health - Office of International Programs

USF Health Students Collaborate to Help Make Lasting Change - by Samantha Spedoske

On April 11th of this year I was lucky to be a part of a collaboration of 25 enthusiastic students from each of the USF Schools of Health as we left traditional work behind to work in Oma, Panama as a part of student run organization, International Health Service Collaborative (IHSC). After two flights and an interesting five hour bus ride we arrived in San Felix and met Steve Russo, an American Peace Corps volunteer who would be leading us for the remainder of the week. Our group was composed of medical, public health, nursing and University of Florida Pharmacy students. We worked for six days in the village of Oma completing several days of clinical work including eye exams with free glasses, physical exams, and health education. Teams also completed manual labor in the hot sun to help complete eight latrine tops and work with the community to break ground and lay aqueducts to provide water to the busy clinic and eventually throughout the entire community, which has not had running water in over 20 years.

IHSC is a well established group which was led by recent USF Medical School graduate Dr. Tania Velez. This group has also worked for several years in the Dominican Republic and Honduras completing similar projects. A decision was made to start a project in Panama in hopes that it will become a long term sustainable project. In order for this to work a survey was implemented to better understand the needs of the community. Although the lack of running water and infrastructure seemed to be obvious problems to us, we were able to better understand what the community wanted from their own experiences.

As a student who has been on several other service trips I knew to expect hard work, but had no idea the rough mountain terrain we would be working with as well as had little idea about how hard it really is to dig two feet into the ground across, down, and up a mountain in order to build the aqueducts. We quickly learned we would come back to the states with a little more muscle after the first day of climbing ¡§the hill¡¨ several times. The village, set in the mountains, had little flat land to walk. Slipping on lose rocks became the norm while I noticed the women and children walking with ease, usually not wearing shoes and carrying loads using their heads. Most of us enjoyed the hard work joking about ¡§team mule¡¨ who carried cinder block and stones down the mountain, and ¡§team Everest¡¨ who felt they climbed forever in order to build a latrine in a remote area.

Overall, we had a wonderful cultural experience as many of us saw for the first time what life is like in a lower developed area. Our creativity was tested as we had little tools to carry objects or mix cement and our patience was also often tested as we tried to communicate with the community (through an obvious language barrier for most) and learn what "village time" actually means.

Although I was excited to turn on tap water and know it would not make me sick when the plane landed in Miami, I am very anxious to get back to the community next year and continue our hard work and put what we have learned into practice.

Panama International Field Experience by Amanda Eiden, COPH Global Communicable Disease Student

I completed my international field experience in San Felix, Panama.   San Felix serves as a city center for many of the health services provided for the Ngöbe-Buglé indigenous populations.  There is a hospital with a laboratory for medical services, ASASTRAN (an organization founded by the Ngöbe’s for traditional medicine), and the Ministry of Health.  The Ministry of Health has services similar to the Department of Health in the United States such as, Epidemiology, Nutrition, and Environmental Health. During my field experience I was able to get exposure to all of these agencies.  I was able to spend time in the hospital laboratory becoming familiar with parasite and tuberculosis diagnosis.  The Ministry of Health allowed me to spend time with their epidemiology department to learn about their disease reporting system.  Then one of my favorite experiences of all was the time I spent with ASASTRAN.  I was able to help them harvest one of their traditional medicines used for headaches.

During the field experience I had opportunities to go into the communities and learn about different health projects the Ministry of Health, the Peace Corps, and various independent public health workers were working on. Some of these projects include educational training courses for community members, the use and implementation of latrines, and a systems approach to reducing parasite infections. 

The main project I spent most of my time working on was a community training course.  The main focus of the training course was to teach community members how to use a microscope that was donated to the community. The course also included lessons on parasite lifecycles and diagnosis, prevention, and surveillance.  One of the key components in designing this training course was to make it sustainable with limited resources.  A few concepts that got implemented in the training course included: using matchsticks instead of applicator sticks, finding the appropriate ratio for saline solution using a standard plastic soda bottle and the cap, and using a grain of rice in boiling water to determine when slides have been sterilized. I also designed a teaching tool made of felt to demonstrate the parasite lifecycles and to teach different ways to break the chain of transmission. 

For this type of community based field experience I would recommend courses that are hands on such as Global Health Applications in the Field. I felt well prepared with a concentration in the Global Communicable Disease and for this particular field site, Parasitology was especially useful.
Before deciding to embark on an international journey, you should know it is important to have developed problem solving and functional skills such as flexibility, adaptability, and creativity.  Getting things accomplished is difficult with limited resources and you may have to relearn many things.  Events you spend time planning for may fall through at the last minute and you have to figure a new way to achieve your goal, often times under time and money constraints.  No matter what type of situations you may encounter during an international field experience, it is always an adventure worth the waging.

Dr. Sanchez-Anguiano Invited to Give Lecture at the VIII Curso de Influenza in Panama


Aurora Sanchez-Anguiano, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, College of Public Health, was invited by CRCES – Centro Regional de Capacitacion en Salud del Instituto Conmemorativo Gorgas (Gorgas Regional Training Institute), to give a lecture on field Epidemiology and Outbreak Control at the VIII Curso de Influenza (8th Course on Influenza), that took place March 9 – March 20 in Panama City, Panama.  The purpose of the course (which was taught in Spanish) was to train 50 health professionals (physicians, nurses, veterinarians) from all Central American countries in all issues related to the influenza pandemic.  The Centro Regional de Capacitacion will be organizing up to three courses a year and plans to invite health professionals from Central America and the Caribbean. 

USF Health has a long-standing relationship with the Gorgas Memorial Institute in Panama City, Panama, and an agreement with the Gorgas Regional Training Institute to provide training in a wide variety of health-related topics to health professionals throughout Central America and the region.  Workshops and seminars cover all aspects of pandemic influenza from surveillance and epidemiological studies, to training in clinical and pandemic disaster management.

Dr. Sanchez-Anguiano also met with Dr. Arlene Calvo, Director of the USF Health International Foundation located in Panama, to work on the details of the IFE students currently in Panama.

Ngobe Bugle Indigenous Community in Rural Panama:  An IFE Experience


Arlene Calvo, Assistant Professor of College of Public Health, Department of Global Health in association with the Gorgas Memorial Institute in Panama is leading a community-based participatory project for health education among the Ngobe Bugle Indians a rural indigenous population in the mountainous region of Panama. The project consists of a first preparatory formative phase which includes focus groups and interviews among community leaders and key authorities in the town of San Felix, Chiriqui. A second phase of five health education activities in the community focusing on the main health problems the community has identified. The health education activities will be interactive, provide capacity for 50 participants in each course. The participants will be community health promoters (promotoras), midwives (parteras) and local shaman (curanderos). The project will also have a final evaluation phase. The main health problems include respiratory diseases such as pneumonia and tuberculosis, gastrointestinal such as diarrhea and parasitic infections and malnutrition.  Each health education activity will be conducted in a centrally located Jesuit the USDHHS as a Supplement to a large public health education grant conducted at the Gorgas’ Regional Training Center. The Project also serves as platform for International Field Experience projects such as the current Global Health student Amanda Eiden, who participated on the last community meeting on February 6th. It also sets a foundation in the community for study abroad types of courses for USF Health students and faculty research projects.

Agreement between Gorgas Regional Training Institute and USF Health Signed

USF Health has a long-standing relationship with the Gorgas Memorial Institute in Panama City, Panama, and an agreement with the Gorgas Regional Training Institute to provide training in a wide variety of health-related topics to health professionals throughout Central America and the region.  Workshops and seminars cover all aspects of pandemic influenza from surveillance and epidemiological studies, to training in clinical and pandemic disaster management with opportunities for USF Health faculty to participate. The US Department of Health and Human Services provided the funding for construction of the state-of-the-art Training Institute and also funds the training courses offered there. The Department of Health and Human Services and the US Food and Drug Administration provided additional funding for future training in food safety and security, and the safety of drugs and medical devices, all timely topics for the region.

Public Health Students Get Family Style Welcome in Panama

Pilot Pablo Palencia & Attorney Sofia Palencia, host family in Panama to students traveling from the USF College of Public Health   (more)

Reporter’s Notebook from Panama

Panama Sets Stage for “Aha!” Moment on Public Health

Nursing’s Community Health in Panama

A CLOSER LOOK: USF College of Nursing's Community Health in Panama

International Cooperative Biodiversity Group

Panama has some of the highest regional plant diversity in the world for natural product drug discovery.  Dennis Kyle, PhD, is the Associate Program Leader for the International Cooperative Biodiversity Group in Panama.  The Group is funded by the National Institutes of Health and the National Science
Foundation.  Dr. Kyle’s laboratory at USF Health is actively engaged in natural product drug discovery.  Collaborators are the USF Department of Chemistry, USF Center for Biological Defense and the Magellan BioScience Group, Inc.

Health in the Americas

Speech delivered by Dean Donna Petersen, USF College of Public Health  (more)

USF Health International Inaugural in Panama

The USF Health International Foundation is the only health sciences academic center with a presence on the City of Knowledge campus in Panama City, Panama. (more)