This is an archived article.

November 30, 2010

Big turnout for launch of global health collaboration in Latin America

UW Health Sciences/UW Medicine

The next PERLA meeting will be noon, Wednesday, Dec. 1 in the Jackson School seminar room, UW Thomson Hall Room 317. For more information, write perla@uw.edu

At the inaugural meeting for the Program for Education and Research in Latin America or “PERLA”, more than 60 people came from across campus and the community to discuss ways of collaborating in Latin America and the Caribbean.

“I hope this turns into a perla (Spanish for pearl),” said Dr. Joe Zunt, a neurologist with 15 years of research and training activities in Peru. Zunt and his colleagues in global health formed PERLA as vehicle to increase networking for students, faculty and colleagues to synergize research, training and service activities in Latin American – especially those focusing on improving health.

Puente Piedra, a slum near Lima,Peru, is now benefiting from the guidance of UW students and faculty, including landscape architect Ben Spencer, president of the Seattle Chapter of Architects without Borders, and UW Forest Resources professor Susan Bolton, president of the UW Chapter of Engineers without Borders.

Puente Piedra, a slum near Lima,Peru, is now benefiting from the guidance of UW students and faculty, including landscape architect Ben Spencer, president of the Seattle Chapter of Architects without Borders, and UW Forest Resources professor Susan Bolton, president of the UW Chapter of Engineers without Borders.

Outside the University, attendees came from PATH, the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Battelle, Sea Mar, Entre Hermanos and the Madison Clinic. Their activities ranged from the wide variety of biomedical sciences to indigenous rights of Andean populations, poetry, textiles and business.

“The turnout and enthusiasm was impressive and illustrates the interest and willingness to collaborate across the University, Seattle and Latin America to develop stronger research, training and service for faculty, students and communities to promote the health of Latin Americans — including those living in North America,” Zunt wrote to those who attended the Oct. 27 event.

Zunt said he hopes PERLA will not only serve as a catalyst for current activities in Latin America but also provide guidance on UW policies and practices that sometimes vary in ways that can constrain opportunities for cooperative work. In a survey sent to Department of Global Health faculty, 21 respondents said they had projects in Latin America covering at least a dozen countries.

The country with the most projects is Peru. Since 1990, more than 100 Peruvians have received training in public health, basic science and responsible conduct of research at UW, including more than 24 master and PhD degrees. UW researchers have participated in projects in all 30 of the largest cities in Peru. Peru is also the UWs largest host country for medical exchanges. Each year since 2003,  ten students and residents have been sent.

Dr. Joseph Zunt (right), pictured with colleague Dr. Sylvia Montano in Peru, is leading the launch of a Latin American collaboration called Program and Education Research in Latin America or PERLA (pearl in Spanish).

Dr. Joseph Zunt (right), pictured with colleague Dr. Sylvia Montano in Peru, is leading the launch of a Latin American collaboration called Program and Education Research in Latin America or PERLA (pearl in Spanish).

“Our goal is to share what we are doing with a larger group of people and to look for existing opportunities and new opportunities for collaboration, especially student collaborations,” said Holmes.

In Peru several students have already been working in a slum  near Lima called Puente Piedra, with 25,000 to30,000 people living in 19 neighborhoods. One of Dr. Zunts mentees, Jose Viñoles, first started working on sexual education in Puente Piedra in 2006 after learning  about 16 teen girls who were pregnant.  Four of them had HIV.

Now, UW engineering students, landscape architecture students, and others are looking at ways to improve the quality of life for students and residents. Public health student Caitlin Hughes Chapman presented findings from summer work mapping the community site for stability, quality of construction, green spaces, resources and current sources of water and electricity. She and other students met with local residents, who identified their priorities: better schools, updated police department, a health post, an improved market, improved transportation services, activities for youth and workshops for women on income-generating activities.

She noted there has been growing interest among students, faculty and residents of  Puente Piedra to develop a wide variety of projects. These would  serve as low- cost models that could be duplicated in neighboring communities. An example would be landscaping the school grounds with gardens, water filtration, fog harvesting, reforestation and composting toilets.

Dr. Tony Lucero, chair of the Latin American and Caribbean Studies Program at the Jackson School of International Studies, said projects like Puente Piedra give his students more opportunities and provide a bridge for students and faculty across the UW and Seattle to work together. Because many meeting attendees were interested in funding opportunities, Dr. Dilys Walker, who specializes in obstetric emergencies in Mexico, noted that the Mesoamerican Health Initiative funded with a $150 million donation by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim and the Spanish government will release a call for proposals soon. The initiative was founded to benefit people in Central America threatened by preventable or curable diseases.

In addition to Drs. Zunt and Walker, founding members of PERLA include Carolina Mejia, PhDc, Alisa Jenny, MPH, and Giancarlo Sal y Rosas, PhDc.