Students Study Infectious Disease in the Amazon

Biology Students in Peru Image

Biology students travel to Peru for a one-week course in tropical medicine with Iquitos clinicians, and then volunteer in rural village clinics.

Twice a year, Professor John Adlish, PhD, leads a team of college biology students to Peru for a one-week course in medicine and pathology – with a side trip into the Amazon basin to help in clinics and visit local shamans.

“Infectious disease is a world-wide issue,” Adlish said. “Students are electing to take this trip out of their comfort zone to see diagnosis and treatment of illnesses such as Dengue Fever. With global travel, diseases like this can show up in the U.S., and many doctors don’t know how to treat them.”

Adlish is President of a private educational company called Global in Diagnostic Disease Education (GID2E) that specializes in teaching students and professionals in health sciences. It was founded in 2007 and is headquartered in Iquitos, Peru and in the U.S. at Eden, Utah. GID2E’s mission is to educate students about the diagnosis, pathology, and treatment of infectious disease, raise awareness about health on a global level and provide medical help and supplies to other countries.

The trips are paid for with student tuition, and are typically scheduled in June, and during winter break in January. Adlish takes additional trips to South America for training. He speaks fluent Castilian Spanish, the language spoken in Peru.

City and Village Clinics

Students take an intensive, seven-day class in tropical medicine at an Iquitos clinic before traveling into the jungle environment. They participate in lectures, attend medical clinics, observe surgeries, spend lab time looking at pathogens under the microscope and shadow a different care provider every day. Peruvian medical providers are from the areas of infectious disease, pathology, internal medicine, obstetrics, and pediatrics.

“Doctors in Peru teach our students how to properly give injections,” Adlish said. “The students learn that many providers there give health education to patients. They teach people about sexually transmitted diseases and general disease prevention.”

The group then travels into the jungle, where they assist at medical clinics in one to two villages.

“Each day, a clinic staffed by only one doctor and two nurses can see as many as 300 patients,” Adlish said. “The students help taking vital signs.”

GID2E supplies equipment such as blood pressure cuffs and syringes. The company also gives boxes of supplies to clinics in the village and cities.

“We donate birthing and suture kits to the city clinics,” he said. “Also, we give masks, gloves and other disposables to the village clinics.”

Illnesses more frequently experienced in South America include:

  • Dengue Fever – five strains
  • Malaria
  • Leishmaniasis
  • Leptospirosis
  • Parasitic Worms such as Ascaris
  • Tuberculosis (TB)
  • Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)

“There is a higher rate of TB in developing countries,” Adlish said.

Visiting the Shaman

Students visit a local shaman, a medical and spiritual healer. Shamans in South America typically study for seven to 14 years and apprentice for many years, with a strong component of training passed down through generations.

“For thousands of years, they have been practicing natural medicine – since before the Incas,” Adlish said. “There are many layers of naturalist medical care in Peru—from Shamans to naturalists to healers more on the fringe—but the Shaman is at the top level.”

Some of the naturalist types of care involve barks, leaves, tree saps, teas and poultices. Adlish said that sometimes the treatment is effective, but for cancer, these medicines most often cannot cure the disease.

He translates for students during a typical three-hour visit with a Shaman.

“The Shaman may teach the students about using extracts, or they may take the group into the jungle, showing students how they use the plants along the path where they’re walking,” Adlish said.

The trips are vital

“The students connect to the microbiology they’re studying in the lab with real people in an area very different from their home environment,” Adlish said.

He said that it is beneficial for the community college to have someone on staff who is a current expert in virology and what’s happening in the world with diagnosis and treatment of tropical infectious diseases.

“I can present real case studies in my microbiology classes,” he said. “In Peru, the culture is different. When we ask, people will allow us to take a picture of them even though they’re sick, because they want to help others learn. Peruvian doctors are also not put up on a pedestal like in the U.S. It’s interesting for students to see that.”

More information about GID2E can be found on their Facebook page, (sign in to Facebook to view). For information about studying biology at TMCC, please call 775-673-8251.