Archive for the Student Summer Series category

In the field: A student’s descent into NTD research – Mission Accomplished

July 14th, 2010

Seth Hoffman, pre-med student at Cornell University and author of our student summer series, updates us on what was accomplished during his time in Nangapanda, Indonesia. He also gives some insight on what hes learned from his experience thus far, and provides whats to come in his next public health adventures (and blog post).

By: Seth Hoffman

My time in Nangapanda is quickly drawing to a close and the adventure has left me with so much to think about. In several days my younger brother Ben and I will fly to Sumba, Indonesia to work on a project at the Eijkman Institute. Since I have been in Nangapanda, I’ve learned so much. However, I think the most rewarding experience has been directly interacting with patients while performing physical exams during population studies. On most weekdays we have continued to wake at 5:00 AM to travel to local residences to take blood and stool samples, and measure height and weight, blood pressure, and skin fold. Read more: In the field: A student’s descent into NTD research – Mission Accomplished

In the field: A student’s descent into NTD research On the Ground

June 23rd, 2010

Below is the latest installment of our summer blog series authored by Cornell student Seth Hoffman! Read on for his experience landing in remote areas of Indonesia, and feelings on the striking contrast of his previous research environment to his current laboratory.

by: Seth Hoffman

Hello there!

Since I last checked in, I suffered terrible travel delays, talked to over 30 Continental/United personnel, arrived in Bangkok, arrived in Bali, and FINALLY arrived in Flores, Indonesia. I met up with one of my best friends, Michael Billingsley, in Bali to fly to Flores, and we landed in one of the most rural airports I have ever been to in my entire life – there were people and goats crossing the runway as we were landing and when we got off the plane about 20 taxi drivers began screaming at the only two “bule” – or Americans, aka me and Michael ­ on the flight. Shortly after landing, we eventually met up with Eddie who is an M.D. working at the Nangapanda study site. We made a quick pit stop at a market, had some delicious beef rendang for lunch, and were off on our hour long drive to Nangapanda.

The drive was beautiful. Hugging the coast, black sand, with open ocean to the left, and luscious forest to the right. We finally arrive to a retro-fitted colonial hospital in the middle of a small villagelocated in the middle of nowhere. It was quite a shock at first, but after the first week or two, I really began to fall in love with the place. Since starting my stay at Nangapanda, I have learned to make thick and thin blood smears, how to do a proper finger-prick method rapid malaria test, how to convince local populations to give blood and stool samples, and how to process/analyze those blood andstool samples. Furthermore, this whole week we have, and will be, waking up at 5am to conduct a local population study in which I help take the blood pressure, height, and weight of the study participants.

This past Sunday we woke at 4am to travel 3.5 hours away to the village of Anaranda. This particular village was chosen for study because the population has experienced very little exogamy and western influence, and as such can demonstrate how the truly local population is affected by endemic malaria and helminth infections. Anaranda was probably, for lack of a better word, one of the most “undeveloped” places I have ever had the chance of visiting in my entire life. Observing the interaction between traditional culture and modern medicine was extremely fascinating. The people of Anaranda live literally amongst their pigs, and 90% of the children run barefoot or incompletely clothed. While talking with one of the heads of the village, I watched as a child went up to his older brother to display a moderately sized wound on his calf. The brother scolded him, spit into the wound, and sent him on his way. It is not like the villagers have not been exposed to modern medicine; in fact the village used to experience a high incidence of lymphatic filariasis, but the whole village was treated for it, and the rate of infection has dropped to almost nil.

A similar situation occurs in Nangapanda. While conducting the population study this past week in Nangapanda, I have found that a lot of people seem confused about the procedures of the medical exams they are volunteering for. However, these same volunteers have been experiencing the same medical exams for the past three years! For example, several women had problems when Michael and I as we tried to measure their weight. One lady thought she had to step on the scale backward and another thought she had to step on the physical dial.

The clash between established culture and “Western” medicine is seen especially in terms of scientific cleanliness. It is fascinating to appreciate the ultra-pristine research environment of the labs I have worked in back in Maryland as compared to that of a tropical research station in which safety measures, which I have come to understand as necessary precautions, cannot always be met or are not always perceived as essential. All in all, the experience, on the scientific side, has been groundbreaking for me and has personally reaffirmed why I love interacting/helping people and why I want to get into medicine. Further, it has sparked important global health questions that incorporate my anthropological background in regard to the local understandings of health and disease and how these intersect (or not) with Western or biomedical ones. Also, in terms of to what extent health care delivery is encumbered by culturally specific understandings (e.g., biomedicine, indigenous healing systems, etc.) that facilitate or inhibit understanding and rapport between research scientists/practitioners and study volunteers/patients.

On a slightly different note, Michael and I have been writing a lot of music for our band, Nigeria, with a focus on broadening the influences of our music, and using the local musical tastes as a guide. My younger brother Benjamin just arrived in Ende today, and has brought with him a drum machine which we hope to use extensively to create a sound that appeals to the sub-concious and underlying tribal nature of human beings.

Until the next lucky occasion in which I get internet access, I hope you all are having an equally interesting and mind blowing summer as I am!

Seth Hoffman is a pre-med student at Cornell University, majoring in Anthropology and minoring in Global Health. He has worked for a number of years on identifying olfactory genes of Anopheles mosquitoes involved in mate and host seeking, and has published on his work in the scientific literature. He is a singer and guitarist for the band Nigeria.

In the field: A students descent into NTD research

June 7th, 2010

Were very excited to feature a new summer blogger for End The Neglect! Seth Hoffman will author a series of posts while conducting NTD field work in Indonesia. While Seth isnt doing a project specifically related with the Global Network, we think his perspective and experiences will provide readers with interesting firsthand encounters with NTDs.

By: Seth Hoffman

Its 2:30am on June 5th, 2010 and I am supposed to get up for my flight to Indonesia in about three hours. Im also not nearly done with my packing.

Hi. My name is Seth Hoffman, and I am going to be a junior at Cornell University. This summer I am setting out for the experience of a lifetime.

Ill be spending the next 8 weeks working with the University of Indonesia and Leiden University Medical Center at their field sites in Flores, Indonesia. Flores is right smack dab along the path less traveled, and that is my kind of party. The project aims to attend to the issue that in many parts of the developing world, malarial and helminth (i.e. hookworms) infections are co-endemic. Investigation on the immunological associations between helminth infections and malarial parasites in co-endemic areas holds the key to answer the question whether helminths, by downregulating immune responses, increase susceptibility to malarial parasites on the one hand, but protect from cerebral malaria on the other.

The purpose of this blog is to describe the experiences of an undergraduate trying to immerse himself completely in the broad (scientific, socio-political, anthropological, etc.) aspects of the field of Global Health, specifically in regard to neglected transmitted diseases (NTDs). I am going to be helping out the doctors and scientists in the study by conducting blood analyses, stool samples, physicals, PCRs, and much more. I personally am overjoyed at being given such an opportunity to develop my medical/scientific prowess, especially in regard to hookworm, an NTD that prior to becoming involved in the field study I had little knowledge of except for what I had learned in my medical parasitology class. I have done a lot of research with malaria, but helminths and NTDs are a whole new can of worms.

I will also be traveling to Flores with my best friend Michael Billingsley (University of Glasgow) and my younger brother Benjamin Hoffman (Stanford University) who both happen to be pursuing medical careers as well.

Furthermore, the three of us are members of a band called Nigeria that has had some local success, and whose debut demo album Mango is currently being passed around several major music labels (fingers crossed!). As a band we plan on writing and recording a lot of music heavily influenced by our exploits in Flores to be released at the end of the summer as a free digital-download mixtape. The three of us have grown up in families fixated on tropical diseases, and work in Global Health, and we have pledged a portion of the proceeds of our album Mango to Share Our Strengths campaign to end childhood hunger.

I truly hope that this summer¹s experiences will help to enhance my parasitological knowledge and general understanding of the grand scope of Global Health; and that is precisely what I plan to communicate to you all through this blog. If I can impart just 25% of what I hope to learn this summer onto another reader, who will then hopefully pass that new found knowledge onto another, then my blog will have been a success.

More posts, pictures, video, and music to come! Until thenIm going to go ahead and finish packing.

Seth Hoffman is a pre-med student at Cornell University, majoring in Anthropology and minoring in Global Health. He has worked for a number of years on identifying olfactory genes of Anopheles mosquitoes involved in mate and host seeking, and has published on his work in the scientific literature. He is a singer and guitarist for the band Nigeria.

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    • The Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases is a major advocacy and resource mobilization initiative of the Sabin Vaccine Institute dedicated to raising the awareness, political will, and funding necessary to control and eliminate the most common neglected tropical diseases (NTDs)--a group of disabling, disfiguring, and deadly diseases affecting more than 1.4 billion people worldwide living on less than $1.25 a day.
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