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During the MEDLIFE Mobile Clinic in Panama this summer, student volunteers were shocked by the large number of patients who came in with ulcers on their skin. The doctor who worked with us on the clinic explained that these were symptoms of Leishmaniasis -- a disease which is rampant in the jungle and mountainous areas of Panama.
Leishmaniasis is transmitted through the phlebotomine sandfly, which thrives in the intertropical regions of the world and threatens the 350 million people living in these areas. There are an estimated 12 million current cases of leishmaniasis worldwide, with another 1.5 to 2 million people infected annually. Around 88,000 people die each year from the disease.
There are three different types of leishmaniasis -- cutaneous, mucocutaneous, and visceral -- which each cause different symptoms. Cutaneous leishmaniasis is the most common and least dangerous form of the disease. Generally, several weeks after the initial bite by the sandfly the patient develops lesions on the skin. Though not generally painful, the lesions -- which look like ulcers -- can occur all over the body and can cause up to 200 sores at a given time. Though the lesions can heal on their own, they cause scarring, which can leave people disfigured and stigmatized.
Patients with mucocutaneous leishmaniasis develop lesions similar to those with cutaneous leishmaniasis, but the lesions occur in the mucous membranes rather than on the skin of the patient. These lesions generally occur between 1-3 months after the initial infection; however, there have been cases where it has been decades after the initial bite that the patient shows symptoms.
This summer MEDLIFE conducted it's third-ever Mobile Clinic in Panama. It was the first time that the Mobile Clinic had visited the rural interior of the country, and also the first time that we had completed a community development project there. MEDLIFE's two summer interns in Panama, Lisa Berdie and Miriam Marshall, assumed a great deal of responsibility in coordinating the logistics of the Mobile Clinic and development project. They share the details of the project below:
Two weeks ago, 32 student volunteers, accompanied by local medical professionals, conducted a MEDLIFE Mobile Clinic in Penonomé, Panama. It was a great way to start developing meaningful relationships in a new part of the country as we extended our services to four different communities. The first three days of the Clinic were held in the same location and people walked for up to three hours to come see our doctors. It was truly amazing to witness the lifestyle of people who live in such a remote place!
The opportunity to work alongside community members on the development project was one of the most rewarding parts of the experience. We worked together to construct a bathroom next to a building that functions as a central meeting place for organizations in the community. Primarily, a group called the Madres Maestras (Mother Teachers) meets in this building. The group has day care centers throughout Panama and is especially active in the province of Coclé (where the Mobile Clinic took place). The organization provides support for families and believes that early education is essential in childhood development; the Madres encourage every parent to be a teacher for their child.