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University of Pennsylvania | School of Medicine | GHI | Activities | Research

Research Projects

Assessing community health in a Tz'utujil Maya village upon the reconstruction of Hospitalito Atitlán [pdf] : Justin Schram (School of Medicine) and Nancy Etzel’s (School of Nursing) report on a 2005 community health survey of Santiago Atitlán completed by a team of volunteers from University of Pennsylvania and Hospitalito Atitlán. Other Penn students involved in this survey were Marilyn Arenas (SON) and Philip Lederer (SOM).

Other students who have done research projects in Santiago Atitlán;

Avantika Chander (SOM): Understanding community health beliefs about diabetes, nervios, and pregnancy in Santiago Atitlán, Guatemala (2005)

Cynthia Bartus (SOM): Epidemiology of skin disease in Santiago Atitlán (2006)

Jaehyun Byun (SOM): Indoor biomass fuel combustion and respiratory illness in Santiago Atitlán, Guatemala (2006)

Penn students who conducted research in Santiago Atitlán have obtained funding for project and personal expenses from the New York Academy of Medicine, the Center for Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics, and the Global Health Programs Office.

Current Student Research

Melanie Philip:

I am currently researching pre-natal care in Santiago Atitlan. The aim of this research project is to understand the pre-natal services offered at the various medical facilities and how they are utilized by Atitecan women. Furthermore, I am interested in where mothers seek advice about maternal care during their pregnancy outside of medical facilities. The ultimate goal is to assess where Atitecan mothers seek advice during pregnancy, the types of services rendered, and the final birth outcome.

Janet Sung:

I am currently researching what decisions rules mothers in Santiago Atitlan use when their children are seriously ill. I am also helping Professor Valeggia gather demographic and fertility data of Tz'utujil women to estimate parameters such as total fertility rates, age at first birth, inter-birth intervals, age at menopause, infant mortality rates, and more.

Katherine Bisanz:

My project focuses on the way knowledge about birthing practices and motherhood gets transmitted across generations here in Santiago as well as the way that local folklore and traditions play a role in that transmission. I am also beginning to look at the way the loss of a child or suffering as a part of motherhood affects the transmission of knowledge.

Ollin Venegas:

Ethnography of Fitness and Sports: To coincide with Penn’s Year of Games, I seek to answer the following research question: What role does fitness and sport play in the lives of 18 – 21 year old male Atitecos? By investigating the role fitness and sports play in Santiago Atitlán, GHI believes it will be useful in understanding how these two concepts promote/perpetuate healthy (e.g. a sense of community) and unhealthy (e.g. discrimination or microaggressions) behaviors in this town. In addition, studying formal and informal sports in this highland Guatemalan town may provide insight into the social organization of leisure time. In other words, the roles that religious, educational, and occupational institutions play in structuring the way leisure time is spent. To do this, I will utilize multiple data collection strategies including participant observation and informal interviews.

Vanessa Romero:

My research project focuses on the traditional birth attendants of Santiago Atitlan: comadronas. I am looking at the many aspects of the type of work that they do and their relationships with their patients. In addition, I am trying to get a better idea of how the dynamic health environment of Santiago -- created by the introduction of the Hospitalito, Centro de Salud and biomedical influence in a general sense -- have affected and are currently affecting the traditional practice of comadronas.

Julia D'Souza:

I am studying the role of biomedical technology in the Hospitalito and the history of that equipment. This study includes what technology is present, how and from where it was acquired, how it is used, and its fate or disposal. I am interested in how well the hospital community can support and use biomedical equipment to serve Santiago, as well as the culture of donations on both donor and recipient ends.

Mili Mehta:

My project is focusing on what accounts for the vaccination patterns observed in Santiago Atitlan. I am studying the methods that the different health centers use to achieve the highest vaccination rates possible. I am conducting my research by interviewing health personnel at health centers, observing vaccinations, and interviewing mothers in the community about their history of and attitudes towards vaccinations.

Emily Blecker:

My research question is the following: What are the expectations of health care professionals concerning e-medicine in healthcare institutions in the remote developing world and what are the barriers and facilitators for the implementation of e-medicine?  I am working on a project involving Electronic Medicine and Telemedicine.  This project will allow doctors and nurses at the Hospitalito Atitlan, the Centro de Salud in Santiago, the Puesto de Salud in Santa Cruz, the Puesto de Salud in Chucaya, and the National Hospital of Solola to have access to electronic medical information as well as direct contact with Penn physicians for medical advice.  The program “Clickderm” by Click Diagnostics will allow Guatemalan doctors to take pictures of patients’ dermatological illnesses, enter patients’ information, and then receive potential diagnoses and advice from dermatologists abroad.  The phones and computers used in my project can also provide the doctors with access to extensive medical databases and e-journals.  Doctors can get up-to-date medical information on diseases and treatment options. I will travel to five sites with the smart-phone to introduce the new technology and observe if and how it is being used and any problems that may arise through its use.  My project is part of a one year grant from the Elsevier foundation and at the end of the summer I will recommend two sites that I feel will most likely use the phone. Penn faculty will return to assess whether the phones are being used.