By David Obadina
Northeastern University, where I am a junior majoring in International Affairs with a minor in global health, has an amazing co-op program through which students can go on six month internships anywhere in the world and work in an area of their interest. Having learned so much about neglected tropical diseases from classes and from serving on the END7 Student Advisory Board last spring, I was excited to be able to apply what I have learned and make a difference in this field during my co-op in the summer and fall of 2014 in Kumasi, Ghana.
For my co-op, I worked at the Kumasi Center for Collaborative Research in Tropical Medicine (KCCR) in their parasitology section. I had the opportunity to work in the lab and in the field to see and experience firsthand how NTDs like lymphatic filariasis, onchocerciasis, hookworm and roundworm are treated.
The field experience was one of a kind. The staff here at KCCR were all very friendly and dedicated to their jobs. When we would go out into the field, we would travel a few hours to remote villages where people do not have easy access to healthcare and set up our equipment in a nearby school. Then, the project leader would speak to the people in charge of the village and would explain everything they intended to do. People were eager to be tested and receive treatment for NTDs.
I worked on the field microscope that was testing people on site. Probably the most interesting and meaningful experience of the field work was when I would diagnose on site looking at blood under the microscope. When I found a worm in someone’s blood I would alert them and show them the worm under the microscope to explain to them the nature of the disease afflicting them. This fieldwork raised awareness of filarial disease among these communities and actively sought to educate the community members. I was honored to be a part of this work and have gained a whole new real world perspective when it comes to the reality of NTDs and those affected by them.
Working in the laboratory, while it may not sound as exciting as the field, has been just as intriguing and is extremely essential to understanding these diseases. Something that was stressed every day in the lab is that every sample is someone’s life. Every single sample of blood that we diagnose and analyze holds meaning and is of high importance. Every diagnosis we make, whether negative or positive, has an immense effect on the lives of everyone involved, and that cannot be taken lightly.
I first became involved in the END7 campaign after being introduced to it by my epidemiology professor, Dr. Richard Wamai, in the fall of 2013, and joined the team that formed the END7 club at Northeastern. We planned many educational events and raised funds for END7, but last semester, I had the eye-opening opportunity to be on the other side of the fight against NTDs during my co-op. Now, I believe I’m better prepared to advocate for global equality and the rapid treatment of neglected diseases. At END7 events hosted at Northeastern, people would sometimes ask what it’s like for people with these diseases or how someone with an NTD looks. I could give an educated answer from what I had studied about the disease or things I had heard at global health conferences, but I couldn’t really give an accurate first hand account. After my co-op experience, I know I’ll be much more confident in giving an accurate depiction of the wide-ranging effects of NTDs on human life.
My co-op experience helped me grow in many ways. I learned a great deal about parasitology, global health networks, and what it really means to work in this field and make a difference in the lives of others. Now that I’m back in Boston, I am excited to begin another semester of education, advocacy, and fundraising with END7 at Northeastern this spring.